Back to list

The meaning of European solidarity - where are we heading?

Ideas Factory Discussion on

 The meaning of European solidarity - where are we heading?

 on Monday 11 July

Young thinkers participated in an Ideas Factory debate on The meaning of European solidarity - where are we heading? on Monday, 11 July. The concept of European solidarity has been called in to question recently. The events of the Arab spring have given a new focus to freedom of movement and migration concepts, creating tensions both between member states and at the EU level.  Questions surrounding the Eurozone and aid packages to Greece have highlighted political and economic aspects of the European project, adding an urgency to reassess the prospects of the Euro. 

  • What is the meaning of European solidarity? What does is it mean to me? Are there limits?
  • Is the European project stalling? What are the implications if so?
  • Is Europe strengthened by crises? Will the European project emerge stronger from this period of questioning?

These questions were addressed by keynote speaker, John Wyles, former Financial Times journalist and columnist for the European Voice and current Managing Partner of ECO-European Communications. Here follows a summary of the discussion.

Facts about European solidarity

- Solidarity implies, at the very least, moral support but, in the European context, it is usually understood in financial and political terms also.

- Evolution of the concept of solidarity in Europe:

  • Initially, the concept ‘solidarity’ referred to social and welfare policy on a national level.
  • This meaning of solidarity was then ‘europeanised’ via the European Social Fund. Furthermore, the Maastricht Treaty made several references to solidarity, shifting the concept from a national political commitment, to relations between member states.
  • Article 11, Title V of the Maastricht Treaty links the concept of solidarity with that of ‘loyalty’, by stipulating that: “the Member States shall support the Union's external and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity”.
  • Through the preamble of the Chart of Fundamental Rights in the year 2000, solidarity becomes a universal value: “the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity.”
  • The draft of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe in its wording of 2004 mentioned the term ‘solidarity’ 18 times.
  • The preamble of the Consolidated Version of the Treaty on European Union expressed the desire of the heads of states 'to deepen the solidarity between their peoples'.
  • Solidarity is not clearly imported to economic policy; formally, there is no commitment in treaties to economic solidarity. But it does exist in practice, e.g. the creation of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and the obligations to respect limits on budgets deficits and debt.
  • The European Union is too large and too diverse to consist of a single European people united in a similar manner to a nation state. Yet, a concept of solidarity which explains how diversity can create a social bond is described in the work of Emile Durkheim. In modern societies, the division of labour naturally leads to a functional interdependence between individuals, which then fosters what Durkheim calls ‘organic solidarity’.
  • Given that there is no articulate representation of European collective interest, solidarity tends to weaken across national borders. 

- Three drivers of solidarity:

  • Ties – feelings of closeness and togetherness resulting from shared history or geography
  • Need – allocating resources in a community based on need
  • Effort – the recipients of solidarity gestures, such as funds, should try to make best use of them. Otherwise, it is difficult for donor governments to legitimise such expressions of solidarity.

Implications for the young generation and beyond

-The right to free movement for EU citizens is being undermined as a result of decreasing solidarity –e.g. EU citizens of Roma origins being expelled from various countries, or the recent Schengen crisis. In the wake of the perceived migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, President Sarkozy has been the most vocal in his efforts to reintroduce internal border controls but the Danes have also initiated plans to reinstate its border. And so, the Commission will propose some possibility to allow once again border checks, albeit temporary and under certain circumstances.

-European solidarity is obviously eroding. For instance, right-wing parties are often campaigning against involvement in the Greek bailout, not to mention other bailouts to Ireland and Portugal. The German government seems to be ruling out any kind of ‘transfer union’, which could have been another manifestation of European solidarity. Yet, the Greek and other bailouts do not involve any direct transfers of tax-payers money in significant quantities.

-There is a danger that European values are going to be hallowed out by national “egotism”, particularly given the influence of right wing minorities.

Possible solutions

  • Structural funds need adjustments to increase their effectiveness, e.g. less focus on absorption per se, but more funds to be spent with a specific vision for the particular regions and their needs.
  • More focus on long term solutions, rather than short term fixes that do not properly address the challenges.
  • Improving communication and transparency at EU level.
  • More leadership for and more promotion of Europe, e.g. Europe-wide media, covering successful EU stories.
  • Encouraging youth mobility in Europe. Providing incentives for young people to study and work outside their own countries.
  • Taking measures to increase trust and transparency between national systems.

Questions to ponder

  • How should we understand European solidarity? What kind of definition should be attached to it? What could be its political meaning?
  • Could or should morality and ethics underline the concept of solidarity at European level?
  • What are the projects that keep Europe together, and how are they affected by elements like the Greek crisis, the current budget negotiations, or the current discussion on the free movement of people?
  • What degree of community is needed to generate functional solidarity?
  • Do we have all the solidarity we need? If we need more solidarity, what form should it take?
  • Is enlargement one of the reasons why European solidarity has decreased?


Registration Form

Registration is closed for this event.

Suggest a topic or a speaker

Is there a topic or a question that niggles you? Is there a topic or a question that you think the Ideas Factory should raise in its meetings? Is there a speaker that you would like to hear or challenge? Let us know, as that burning issue might well become a topic of the next meeting!


Interested in the network?
Please click here.