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CO3 develops a theoretically and empirically grounded approach to understand the evolving nature of social contracts. The project analyses key factors that challenge and strengthen social contracts, including during crises. The consortium studies empirical country cases of eight EU member states (Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Sweden) and three non-EU states (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Turkey, Ukraine). By linking historical and contemporary data with deep theoretical insights, CO3 aims to promote a more democratic, inclusive, and open model of social contracts.


CO3 creates a theoretically and empirically grounded model of resilient social contracts that takes into account their continuously evolving nature.


CO3 makes an analysis of the key factors for challenging and strengthening social contracts under crises.


CO3 produces an applicable framework with policy recommendations for promoting resilient social contracts.

Social Contracts

The concept of a social contract refers to the (imagined) agreement between community members to form a society, follow its rules, and accept a governing authority in exchange for protection and social order. Understanding social contracts requires analysing how definitions and practices shape their scope, implications, and resilience in the face of societal transformations. It needs context sensitivity and the ability to shift perspectives between different settings. There is a long legacy of various definitions of a social contract in political theory, and a long historical legacy of practised social contracts in countries inside and outside the European Union. Analysing this legacy and how it relates to the current practice is one of the first steps of the CO3 project. The project understands social contracts as historically and politically constructed, open-ended processes. They can be studied both as theoretical entities of great importance in social thought and empirically as sets of practices, discourses and expectations. One of the aims for the social contract in general is considered to lie in creating stability and predictability for the way individuals, groups and the state interact through formal and informal institutions. CO3 analyses how social contracts crucially touch upon the question of membership in the ‘demos’. Classically, the relationship has been described as one between individuals and the state (e.g., by Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau), but the analysis can also concern the social contract between social groups and the state. The criticism of the concept over time invites CO3 to consider who is included and what social contracts are for in our contemporary democratic societies. Further, the project analyses the limitations of the conventional view of social contracts and the implications of these limitations, such as inequality, normativity and the persistence of reason-emotion dualism.

Challenges to Social Contracts

There are empirically recognised challenges that put pressure on social contracts in different ways. These challenges often have roots and reach across societies and beyond borders, but they can affect communities of any size. CO3 takes challenges like those listed below as a backdrop and asks how they influence current social contracts, and how a new kind of social contract could tackle them: • Populism and extreme ideologies • Nationalism • Illiberalism • Disaffection • Conflicts between different social groups and identities • Needs to cope with multiplicity of social contracts, as is the case for EU citizens, federal, or multinational contracts • Exclusion from the social contract because of race, gender, sexuality, class, religion, culture While challenges can be understood as historically and politically formed trends, structures, and practices, the EU has since 2008 also been hit by a series of crises that have brought about new challenges to the social contract, while also intensifying existing ones. These include the world financial crisis of 2008, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russo-Ukrainian War and the ecological crisis. CO3 aims to develop a model of resilient social contracts that remain strong when confronted with the polycrises that face the EU and the wider world.

Resilient Social Contracts

CO3 produces a comprehensive understanding of the key factors for resilient social contracts by exploring the failures, cracks and fissures in the existing ones through empirical cases. CO3 accounts for the views of the EU from the outside in and the inside out: Its empirical analysis covers key dimensions to the reconstruction of social contracts through analysis of the established and emerging societal and social non-cohesion, which has an impact on the question of who is in and who is out from diverse angles. The cases also include analysing the EP elections (2024) from the point of view of challenges to the EU. Understanding social contracts is a key question to the wellbeing of European citizens, who should be able to rely on well-functioning, democratic and inclusive political systems and rule of law. In the face of the challenges ahead, resilience of social contracts is also highly connected to fully understanding the extent and depth of the ecological crisis in order to foresee in a more precise way what must change in micro and macro politics, if ecological conceptualising will be at the heart of social contracts.


To support the uptake of its research findings, CO3 develops forward-looking future scenarios and policy recommendations, an applicable CO3 model for analysing and safeguarding democratic social contracts, and engages with stakeholders in democracy labs, schools, art interventions and scenario workshops. Research activities in CO3 have a multi-method approach, including:

Empirical case studies


Structured and semi-structured interviews


Media and thematic analysis


Secondary data analysis








Interpretive political analysis​​


Democracy lab methodology​


Participatory art interventions


Systematic literature reviews​

Social media analysis​​


Delphi method​

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