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What Holds Europe Together?

Krzysztof Michalski


Krzysztof Michalski

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1The European Union is facing a great challenge, perhaps its greatest thus far. On the one hand, it is expanding on a dramatic scale: over 70 million more people will have EU passports in the near future. On the other hand, the EU is attempting to radically redefine itself through the process of drawing up a Constitution and by metamorphosing into a new kind of political union.

2Enlargement brings people into the Union who are often much poorer than, and culturally very different from, most of its existing citizens. Economic and cultural divergences within the Union will widen dramatically and reflect greater contrasts as a result. At the same time, the process of drawing up the Constitution is an attempt to redefine the unity of the Union in a more ambitious way. What could hold the European Union together in this situation, where growing diversity goes hand in hand with unity of a more demanding nature? What values, traditions and aims can bring Lithuanians and Basques, Polish farmers and Scottish miners together in a single democratic structure, thereby strengthening and solidifying the future European Constitution?

3The contributions to the present volumes examining the Conditions of European Solidarity concentrate on a few specific areas that may be sore issues in the process of European integration. One of them is, of course, the enlargement of the Union to include the countries of the former Soviet empire. How will this enlargement alter the conditions of European solidarity? What will these new members bring to the family table? Will they—as many fear—be no more than spoilsports, poor, dirty, unenlightened fellows with questionable democratic traditions (if, indeed, they have any such traditions in the first place)? Will they slow down the process of the Union’s democratization, or even bring it to a halt? Will they put a stop to a common foreign policy and destroy heaven knows what other precious assets—just as they (some people claim) are ruining the labor market? Or might it be that they will not only expose the Union to new risks, but also create new opportunities? 1989 ushered in a sea change for Europe. Does that year live on in our actions, or has it become a mere museum piece? “Solidarity,” after all, was the slogan of the 1989 revolution. Are there other lessons to be drawn from the solidarity of the past for the solidarity we need today?

4In the revolutionary 1980s the name “Solidarity”—first in Poland, then, quickly taking on a well-nigh-mythical status in other countries as well—stood for a social bond uniting people independently of existing political institutions. This bond proved to be the basis for a radical and vital reform of the political order—indeed, a revolution. It was proven that genuine political realism needed to take this reality, rather than merely the interests articulated in the “real existing” political institutions, on board.

5The solidarity of these years offers an experience from which today’s Europeans still could learn. Another lesson of 1989 is that it is hardly possible to address the issue of social identity without examining the dimension of the future—that is, people’s wishes, expectations and dreams, of which they are often only dimly aware. Sometimes these wishes and dreams can be mobilized to achieve a large shared project—such as that of a free society, in 1989. Today, that project might be Europe itself.

6The issue of Europe’s religions is of particular interest in this context. After European solidarity it is the second main topic of this collection. Having learned from their tragic experiences, Europe’s democratic societies have sought over the last two centuries to oust religion from the political sphere. It was not for nothing that it was viewed as a source of contention, rather than unity. This is certainly still often the case today. However, it may be that European religions also have the potential to bring the people of Europe closer together, instead of dividing them further. The contributions to the second volume take a close look at this issue. Particular attention is paid to the role of Islam in the European public sphere.

  • 1 Its members were: Kurt Biedenkopf, Silvio Ferrari, Bronislaw Geremek, Árpád Göncz, John Gray, Will (...)
  • 2 The first of these (organized in cooperation with the Warsaw-based Stefan Batory Foundation) was h (...)
  • 3 They were first published in German in IWM’s journal Transit— Europäische Revue, nr. 26, 27 and 28 (...)

7In the spring of 2002, the then President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, asked the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (IWM, Institute for Human Sciences) in Vienna to set up a group of Europeans to reflect on those values particularly relevant to the continuing process of European unification and to advise him on this field. The individuals involved, he requested, should be independent persons, not representatives of political parties, churches or other organizations; they should possess intellectual credentials, political experience and a non-partisan stature in their countries. Over the next, few weeks the group was set up and soon began work.1 With the European Commission’s support, the group repeatedly met with experts on the relevant issues. Additionally, in order to involve as broad a swathe of the general public as possible from the very outset, rather than presenting a fait accompli, the Group has held a series of public debates in several European capitals.2 Under the general title Conditions of European Solidarity the two volumes What Holds Europe together? and Religion in the New Europe present the main outcomes of the group’s meetings and public debates.3

8In the concluding remarks “What Holds Europe Together?” (vol. 1, pp. 93–102) four members of the Reflection Group summarize the central ideas developed during its work. This “Europe Paper” was then circulated to a number of scholars, intellectuals and politicians from Europe, East and West, and the United States for comments (see ibid, pp. 103–188).

9We hope that the reflections presented in these volumes can provide fresh impetus to the debate on the new union of Europe.


1 Its members were: Kurt Biedenkopf, Silvio Ferrari, Bronislaw Geremek, Árpád Göncz, John Gray, Will Hutton, Jutta Limbach, Krzysztof Michalski, Ioannis Petrou, Alberto Quadrio Curzio, Michel Rocard and Simone Veil. Further details are available at: and

2 The first of these (organized in cooperation with the Warsaw-based Stefan Batory Foundation) was held in the residence of the Polish President in Warsaw; the second (organized in cooperation with the Austrian Industrialists’ Association) took place in Prince Schwarzenberg’s palace in Vienna, while the third and fourth were held in Paris (in cooperation with La République des idées and hosted by Dominique de Villepin, at that time French Minister for Foreign Affairs) and Berlin (hosted by de Villepin’s German counterpart, Joschka Fischer).
Another means of bringing the ideas of the group to the attention of a broader cross-section of the European public were newspaper columns written by the members on the topics under discussion. These were published in cooperation with Project Syndicate, a non-commercial international group of more than 250 daily newspapers in Europe and beyond. Twelve columns have appeared in 49 newspapers and 32 countries.

3 They were first published in German in IWM’s journal Transit— Europäische Revue, nr. 26, 27 and 28 (Verlag Neue Kritik, Frankfurt a. M., 2003/ 2004).


Krzysztof Michalski is Rector of the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna, and professor of philosophy at Boston University and the University of Warsaw. Chairman of the Reflection Group on the Spiritual and Cultural Dimension of Europe (2002–2004). Editor of Transit. Europäische Revue, Frankfurt am Main, and the series Castelgandolfo-Gespräche, Stuttgart, 1985–2000.

© Central European University Press, 2005

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