Quotation Eiffe, Franz. 2008. A capability approach for the European Union. 6th ESPAnet Conference, Helsinki, Finnland, 17. - 19.September.




The aim of this paper is to develop a new concept for the EU in order to define and measure poverty no longer on the basis of income1, but on so called capabilities to argue for a capability oriented social policy. The capability approach (CA) was originally developed by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen2 and can be interpreted as critique of the utilitarian tradition of standard economics. In Sen’s view, mainstream economic analysis operates on a very narrow base and does not include central information about the human condition. The main points of Sen’s critique shall be discussed by way of introduction in section one. In offering an alternative framework of economic evaluation, Sen is very much inspired by the work of Adam Smith (1723-1790) and tried to bring him back into the economic and social discussion. The connections between Smith and Sen and the main elements of the CA will be discussed in section two. Within this framework, a further conceptualisation of the EU-approach becomes possible. Poverty will now be defined in terms of some basic, normatively and empirically justified, capabilities. The challenge in section four is to find these capabilities and make them explicit. The “tightrope” walk between both aspects, viz. theoretical claim and practical implementation, is not a simple task. Nevertheless it must be undertaken in order to guarantee both scientific value and empirical applicability. The main purpose of the paper, however, is to argue for a change of perspective in both poverty measurement and more explicitly so in poverty policy at EU level. In the concluding chapter implications for a capability oriented social inclusion policy in the EU will be discussed in further detail. 1 The poverty line in the EU is set at an income lower than 60% of national median equalised household income. 2 Amartya Sen won the Nobel Price for Economics in 1998 “for his contributions to welfare economics”.


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Publication's profile

Status of publication Published
Affiliation WU
Type of publication Paper presented at an academic conference or symposium
Language English
Title A capability approach for the European Union
Event 6th ESPAnet Conference
Year 2008
Date 17. - 19.September
Country Finland
Location Helsinki


Economist for the people - The possible contribution of Sen's Capability Approach to poverty reduction in the EU
Eiffe, Franz (Former researcher)
Institute for Social Policy IN (Details)
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