Situating within the broad strand of literature on the social dimension of the EU, the article deals with the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), an European social initiative totalling about 3,8 billion euro for the 2014-2020 budget cycle. Launched in 2014 - in a particularly sensitive phase for the European integration process - the FEAD was meant to represent in symbolic terms a way to both increase the visibility of EU action in the social field and to stem the social consequences of the economic downturn, with a focus on severe material deprivation. Midway EU2020 strategy, poverty was in fact on the rise and the European target - namely lifting 20 million people out of poverty or social exclusion by 2020 - resulted even more far away than in 2010. The article has a twofold aim. First, from a descriptive standpoint, it aims at providing an overview of the main institutional features of this novel component of the European social dimension, that through the lens of historical institutionalism can be understood as a case of institutional conversion. Second, from an interpretative perspective, the research aims at investigating the political and institutional dynamics behind the adoption of the new scheme, which represents a successful yet puzzling example of "EU-building in a more socially-friendly direction", calling for interpretation in causal terms. The paper shows that the adoption of the FEAD resulted to be a contested and contentious decision, which fostered the emergence of harsh tensions between and within EU institutions. Despite this, the institutional and political sponsorship of the proposal proved to be strong enough to have the Commission's initiative not only passed but even strengthened during the legislative process.
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