Working under pressure: economic recession and third sector development in Europe

Ulla Pape (Institute for Management Research, Radboud University, Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands AND National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russian Federation.)
Rafael Chaves-Ávila (Department of Applied Economics, University of Valencia, Valencia, Spain)
Joachim Benedikt Pahl (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität (WWU) Münster, Germany)
Francesca Petrella (Aix Marseille University, CNRS, LEST, Aix-en-Provence, France)
Bartosz Pieliński (Institute of Social Policy, University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland)
Teresa Savall-Morera (IUDESCOOP (Instituto Universitario de Economía Social y Cooperativa), University of Valencia, Valencia, Spain)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Publication date: 11 July 2016



The context conditions for third sector organizations (TSOs) in Europe have significantly changed as a result of the global economic crisis, including decreasing levels of public funding and changing modes of relations with the state. The effect of economic recession, however, varies across Europe. The purpose of this paper is to understand why this is the case. It analyses the impact of economic recession and related policy changes on third sector development in Europe. The economic effects on TSOs are thereby placed into a broader context of changing third sector policies and welfare state restructuring.


The paper focusses on two research questions: how has the changing policy environment affected the development of the third sector? And what kind of strategies have TSOs adopted to respond to these changes? The paper first investigates general trends in Europe, based on a conceptual model that focusses on economic recession and austerity policies with regard to the third sector. In a second step of analysis, the paper provides five country case studies that exemplify policy changes and responses from the third sector in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain.


The paper argues that three different development paths can be identified across Europe. In some countries (France and Spain), TSOs face a strong effect of economic recession. In other countries (Germany and Poland) the development of the third sector remains largely stable, albeit at different levels, whereas in the Netherlands, TSOs rather experience changes in the policy environment than a direct impact of economic decline. The paper also shows that response strategies of the third sector in Europe depend on the context conditions. The paper is based on the European project “Third Sector Impact.” It combines an analysis of statistical information with qualitative data from interviews with third sector representatives.


The paper contributes to our understanding of the interrelation between economic recession, long-term policy changes and third sector development in Europe.



Pape, U., Chaves-Ávila, R., Pahl, J., Petrella, F., Pieliński, B. and Savall-Morera, T. (2016), "Working under pressure: economic recession and third sector development in Europe", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 36 No. 7/8, pp. 547-566.

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