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What Holds Europe Together?

Krzysztof Michalski


Solidarity under Threat

Jan Rokita

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1Whenever I’m invited to say something about the state of European solidarity, I feel the embarrassment of a well-behaved boy forced to do something completely inappropriate in good company: to swear aloud or to unmask the lies of a good and respected uncle. Correspondingly, for some time I have had the strong impression that the idea of solidarity on our continent of Europe serves the same function as the idea of peace did shortly before World War II. The more often politicians call upon it, and the more international conferences and seminars are devoted to it, the less solidarity there is in European politics. Thus it is—in a word—an idea deeply tainted with hypocrisy.

2I am incapable of defining the moment at which the anti-solidarity current in Europe became an underground raging river defining the direction of European politics. Perhaps this occurred during negotiations on the enlargement of Europe by ten new, but also poor, countries. These countries, sentenced to half a century of communist occupation, destroyed and plundered by the Soviets and a socialist economy, placed before the Old Europe the obvious challenge of increased solidarity. This Europe reacted with the typical irritation of a rich man who has graciously invited a beggar into his home, and now must incur the costs of feeding and clothing him!

3The desire to have a Europe enlarged by ten poor countries, and at the same time, by new and expensive policies in the Union—for example, new security policies or innovation policies based on the Lisbon agenda—and to have this all funded by a smaller EU budget is absurd, and can only be explained by such a psychological state of irritation. There is not even a shadow of rationality in this desire. And it is hard to believe that serious European leaders themselves do not burst out in laughter on hearing the views they themselves voice.

4It is possible that the anti-solidarity current in Europe gained strength under the influence of the deadlock in economic reform among Europe’s large countries, chiefly those making up Euroland. Certain EMU member states, due to weak political leadership, were unable to effectively deregulate their economies, radically reduce taxes, slow down the development of unnecessary bureaucracy, or abide by the Stabilisation and Growth Pact criteria they themselves authored.

5Perhaps ideas from the anti-solidarity arsenal emerged in Europe in reaction to this inability. Most recently, a favorite question posed by certain Ministers of Finance concerns how to force new member states to increase taxation. How do we force the European Commission to protect the national/social goals of individual countries, instead of enforcing the Maastricht Criteria? And more generally: how do we slow down the natural growth of the Community Method in the Union and concentrate real power in the hands of national governments? To answer by reading between the lines: the national governments of a few of the strongest European countries must do so.

6In this manner, for example, the Nice Treaty Mechanism was overthrown by the one of Double Majority. Then, there is the threat— it is difficult to say how real this threat is—of creating a Union within the Union of the wealthiest countries just after the EU enlargement becomes a reality. One might say that it was decided that a unified Europe should become enlarged solely because, after the fall of communism, such an action was perceived as appropriate. Then, one might add that, at the same time, the old EU members were likely to avoid the real enlargement.

7There is one more factor responsible for weakening solidarity in Europe. It is the desire of old EU members to negotiate freely in regard to external relations. Relations with Russia are at the top of the list. We Poles received a significant warning when Russia limited fuel deliveries to the West due to a conflict with Byelorussian President Lukashenka a few months ago. We—as a transit country and a loyal partner—immediately passed this information on to the Germans. They responded with complete surprise. “What do you mean?” they asked. “We are completely prepared for this. We’ve known this would happen for a week.” Another example is the Brussels–Berlin– Moscow negotiations concerning the planned gas pipeline beneath the Baltic Sea.

8I have to confess to great respect for the political figure of Prince Metternich. This admiration is not typical in my country, for Prince Metternich played a decidedly dark role in Polish history. In a text written in 1852 the Prince wrote that:

9The greatest gift of any statesman rests not in knowing what concessions to make but recognizing when to make them.

10European solidarity is threatened today. I am afraid that European solidarity needs to be saved in the years 2005 and 2006. My political intuition tells me that, after 2007, this will be a much, much more difficult task.


Jan Rokita is a Member of the Polish Parliament and chairman of the parliamentary caucus of Platforma Obywatelska, PO (Citizens’ Platform).

© Central European University Press, 2005

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