Research by the Institute on the Corona Pandemic | Max-Planck-Institut für Sozialrecht und Sozialpolitik - MPISOC


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22.04.2020 / The Institute

Research by the Institute on the Corona Pandemic

In various projects, scientists investigate legal, political and economic issues

The Corona Pandemic will have large impacts on the economy and the social security systems in the long run. Scientists of our Institute are currently examining these consequences within several research projects of which an overview is provided below.


The Department of Foreign and International Social Law conducts research on the following topics:

1. Protecting Livelihoods in the COVID-19 Crisis

The Corona crisis pushes the worldwide economy into recession. Even if its extent cannot yet be predicted – it will leave profound marks. The research project “Securing Livelihood in times of the Corona Crisis” analyses selected countries (Germany, France, Denmark, England and Italy) regarding their strategies and measures taken in order to secure livelihoods and maintain potential economic power through state intervention. Measures ensuring an easier access to social protection, compensation payments for reduced volume of employment and deficits in terms of demand for products and services, are of central concern. The analysis of such benefits focuses on the one hand on the question of how to implement them into the existing social policy of the respective country. On the other hand, the scientists examine the changes induced by the measures agreed on. This refers to changes induced not only by financial transfers per se but also in regard of the systematization, the practicality and the assessment of interventions by the welfare state.

The first results were published in May 2020 in the series Working Papers Law and have been updated in October 2020. The department will continue to take stock of the social law interventions and examine the extent to which they not only secure livelihoods but also lead to structural changes of traditional welfare state architectures.

Project team: Ulrich Becker, Eva Hohnerlein, Anika Seemann, Linxin He, Nikola Wilman

Working Papers Law 7 (as of October 2020) as PDF file (english)

Working Papers Law 6 (as of: May 2020) as PDF file (german)


2. The International Health Regulations: The Past and the Present, but what Future?

In two essays (Harvard International Law Journal and BioDiritto) Lauren Tonti examines if and in how far the International Health Regulations (IHR) set by the WHO that are currently directing global reactions to COVID-19, are a suitable instrument for the containment of a pandemic. Tonti concludes that confidence in the IHR decreases and that many question whether the provisions adequately fit modern tendencies. A number of violations of the IHR regulations during the crisis underline the failure of the preventive measures established in the IHR – mainly due to national discretion. There were several direct IHR infractions, particularly Articles 6 and 7, governing reporting, and Article 43, regarding the implementation of protective measures. In order to strengthen the IHR, the junior scientist presents some reform proposals.


3. How to Protect the Vulnerable?

Irene Domenici and Tim Rohmann are preoccupied with measures for the protection of high-risk members of the population. In their essay "How to protect the Vulnerable? Legal Implications of Vulnerability in Times of COVID-19", they take a closer look at the immediate reactions to the outbreak of the pandemic and reflect on the legal implications of vulnerability for the exit-strategies from the current lockdown, focusing on the proposal of maintaining restrictive measures for vulnerable groups only. The authors conclude that a balance between containment measures and the protection of fundamental rights becomes even more pressing with respect to vulnerable groups, especially in view of proposals aiming at restricting the curfews to high-risk populations. Over-emphasizing their need for protection bears the risk of disregarding their rights and autonomy and one-sidedly imposing paternalistic measures in order to urge a solution and alleviate economic consequences.


4. Impacts of Measures against Corona on Asylum and Migration Policy

Impacts on asylum and migration policy that arise from measures taken to contain the pandemic are examined by Dr. Constantin Hruschka. In several articles, he draws attention to the potential infringement of the right to asylum due to internal border controls between EU Member States, to the consequences for public health and access to national asylum and accommodation systems, as well as to the need of European solidarity instead of a focus on national measures in order to contain the pandemic

In addition, Dr. Hruschka is co-author of the paper "Kreativität – Verantwortung – Transformation", which presents fundamental requirements for a progressive easing of the COVID-19 Lockdown. One condition is the establishment of immigration control systems adjusted across the EU and governed by the need of health protection. Cicero magazine and Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on the work of the interdisciplinary research team. 


5. COVID-19: Walking on the Tightrope of Vaccination Obligations

In her essay “COVID-19: Walking the Tightrope pf Vaccination Obligations” our junior researcher Lauren Tonti draws at a long-debated issue in public health coming up in the course of containing the pandemic – mandatory vaccination. She draws attention to the necessity of understanding available legal obligations before the existence of a vaccine to ensure a viable roll out scheme of the vaccine. For this, the constitutionality of mandatory vaccination in the US and Germany is examined and discussed against the background of proportionality.


6. Testing for the Benefit of All - and at the Expense of 90 %?

In an article on, PhD candidate Franciska Engeser deals with the question of how to bear the costs for the legal claim to Covid-19 tests in asymptomatic persons recently announced by Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn. The article examines the current legal situation regarding mass tests and the changes resulting from the new regulation. In particular, the sole financing through the reserves of the statutory health insurance - without participation of the private health insurance companies - is critically discussed.


7. Corona Vaccine: Wonder Weapon or New Constitutional Bone of Contention?

With the administration of the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, a shift in the debate about corona measures towards questions about vaccination and a possible "privileging" of immunised persons is emerging. Together with her colleague Stefan Schäferling from LMU Munich, Lauren Tonti, in an article for the journal "COVID-19 und Recht" (COVuR), highlights current legal challenges related to corona vaccines and outlines the (constitutional) legal framework that has to be taken into acccount in their distribution and with regard to conceivable measures to increase the vaccination rate on the way to herd immunity.


Our Department of Social Policy, the Munich Center for the Economics of Aging (MEA), works on these projects:

1. The Impact of the Corona Crisis on Pensions

The effects of the Corona pandemic on the contributors to the pension system and the pensioners were calculated by the scientists of the department for social policy, the Munich Center for the Economics of Aging (MEA). They found that the pandemic will place a significantly greater burden on the contributors to the pension system than on the pensioners. With expected falling annual wages of the contributors, the pension guarantee level will rise significantly in 2021, and all the more so the deeper the recession. This is because, according to the statutory pension guarantee, the pensions must not fall although the annual wages do. The former pension law would have restored the balance between generations during better years that are hoped to follow. With the introduction of the "double stop line", however, this "catch-up factor" was suspended. The effect is a permanent increase of the guarantee level.

The “double stop line”, valid until 2025, will cap the increase in the contribution rate (currently 18.6%) at 20 %. Therefore, increased federal funds for the statutory pension system are to be expected from 2021 onwards. Except in the case of a relatively mild or short recession, the 20 % stop line will be reached as early as in 2021. Without the Corona crisis, this would have only been the case in 2025. As a consequence, federal subsidies need to be increased by up to 5 billion euros already next year and by up to 19 billion euros in 2025.

“Pensioners will therefore be financially less affected by the Corona crisis than the working population. Paradoxically, their financial position will even be improved by the crisis in the long-term,” explains Axel Börsch-Supan, Director of the Munich Center for the Economics of Aging (MEA) at the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy.

Details of the calculations and the different scenarios can be found in the MEA Discussion Paper 11-2020. Another contribution on this issue was published by the ifo Schnelldienst 04/2020.

Project team: Axel Börsch-Supan, Johannes Rausch


2. SHARE's Contribution to Research about the Social, Health and Economic Impact of COVID-19

SHARE resumes Wave 8 fieldwork via telephone interviews including a special “SHARE Corona” questionnaire. SHARE is a multidisciplinary and cross-national panel database of micro data on health, socio-economic status and social and family networks of about 140,000 individuals aged 50 or older with around 380,000 interviews. The survey covers 27 European countries and Israel and is centrally coordinated at the Max-Planck-Institute for Social Law and Social Policy in Munich.

After the interruption of SHARE’s Wave 8 fieldwork, due to the COVID-19 outbreak and associated safety measures, SHARE will resume the fieldwork with shortened, but targeted telephone interviews (CATI - Computer-Assisted-Telephone-Interview). This interview collects variables in the same domains as the regular questionnaire. However, it specifically addresses the health, economic and social situation during the Corona crisis.

The questionnaire contains questions relevant for various research areas:

  • Infection and Health questions such as: Have you been tested? Did you or relatives or friends and colleagues have COVID-19 or similar symptoms?
  • Mental health questions such as: Have you been sad or depressed? Do you feel lonely?
  • Economic questions such as: Have you been affected by short-time work? What was your loss of income? Has this loss been offset by government transfers?
  • Social Network questions such as: Who were you in contact with? Who helped you? Did you help someone?
  • Healthcare questions Did you get access to a doctor in acceptable time? Did you have to postpone an earlier planned operation? Have you been treated satisfactorily in the hospital?

The data collected with this questionnaire will allow examining in depth how the risk group of the older individuals is coping with the health-related and socioeconomic impact of COVID-19. The great advantage of these data will be the possibility to measure and interpret differences in a cross-country and a longitudinal dimension. SHARE’s embeddedness in a worldwide network of harmonized ageing surveys, permits European and even worldwide comparisons of how well the healthcare and social systems have responded to the pandemic and which lessons should be drawn for the future. Moreover, the use of data from previous waves allows comparing this crisis’ socioeconomic impact with previous hardships, for example the economic crisis in 2008.

Hence, the new SHARE Corona data will enable researchers and policy makers to learn from the crisis management in other countries, linking these new data with what we already know about the life histories of our respondents and thus shed light on whether the already vulnerable have been particularly hit by the crisis, be it health-wise or economically.

Newsupdate August 2020: >> EU Commission Grant: SHARE-ERIC is becoming a central pillar in Corona crisis related research