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What Holds Europe Together?

Krzysztof Michalski

“United in diversity”: What Holds Europe Together?

Kurt Biedenkopf

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Conscious that Europe is a continent that has brought forth civilization; that its inhabitants … have gradually developed the values underlying humanism: equality of persons, freedom, respect for reason,
Drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe…
Believing that reunited Europe intends to continue along the path of civilization, progress and prosperity, for the good of all its inhabitants … that it wishes to remain a continent open to culture, learning and social progress; and that it wishes … to strive for peace, justice and solidarity throughout the world,
Convinced that, while remaining proud of their own national identities and history, the peoples of Europe are determined to transcend their ancient divisions and, united ever more closely, to forge a common destiny,
Convinced that, thus “united in its diversity,” Europe offers them the best chance of pursuing, with due regard for the rights of each individual and in awareness of their responsibilities towards future generations and the Earth, the great venture which makes of it a special area of human hope…

1It is in this somewhat lofty language that the Preamble to the draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe describes the foundations of the Community of states and peoples who have banded together in the European Union to set about shaping their joint future. The draft here sets out the goals and values, which it hopes, will give meaning and lasting stability to the continuing process of European integration and the building of a political union.

2To consider the objectives and values that could be said to form the intellectual foundation of the Union, to define them and examine their solidity, is one of the objectives of the reflection group that Romano Prodi set up in Brussels in January 2003. The President of the European Commission felt that, in parallel to the work of the Constitutional Convention, there was a need to take stock of the spiritual and cultural dimension of an enlarged Europe, and to look for answers to the questions, “Who are we? From what roots does a shared certainty of belonging together grow?” Prodi’s concern has been to identify and think through the fundamental principles that provide the basis on which all the citizens of the European Union can live together. New rules of coexistence, he believes, can be used to create a real community of peoples and civil society in a Europe living in freedom with its neighbors. Prodi feels that, if the debate on the Constitutional Treaty is to clarify the basis on which the new political unit, the Union, is to rest, it must turn on the interrelations between scales of values, politics and European citizenship. When we look to the future of Europe, we cannot confine ourselves to the Union’s economic achievements and ignore its spiritual, religious and ethical dimensions.

3In avowing his conviction as to the importance of these dimensions, President Prodi is acknowledging that the state cannot itself establish the foundations on which it rests. What is true of the state is just as true of the European Union. It cannot by itself create the prerequisites that would make it a unit that can be defined in a constitution. For that, it must depend on other sources, and on other strengths. These include common values, a shared cultural and historical background, and common interests, ambitions and challenges. It is these characteristics above all that help to establish a community and hold it together. They are the foundations of its identity.

4These characteristics also make Europe capable of giving substance and life to a constitution. They provide an indication of its capacity to act, of its solidity and, thus, of its ability to overcome tensions and crises with the strength of community: in short, of its ability to endure as an entity unified in diversity.

5The considerations I will be outlining here start out from the overriding question, “What holds Europe together, and what will hold it together now that it is to be a Union of 25 European states?” Starting from this question allows the task of the Constitutional Treaty to be circumscribed. Constitutional questions are also questions of values; but any attempt to provide a constitution for a community assumes that the community already exists. The constitution as such cannot provide that identity. This was seen, for example, after the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, when an attempt was made to provide the Federal Republic with an identity apprehended by its citizens. This concept of a patriotism centered on a constitution, put forward by Dolf Sternberger, came to nothing. A constitutional framework can only envelop that which already exists as a unit that can be expressed in a constitution, and which aspires to such a goal.

6The draft Constitutional Treaty currently being discussed and decided upon, however, gives us an opportunity to measure the work of the Convention against criteria that are not intrinsic to a constitution, but rather relate to its prerequisites. As far as I am aware, the Convention did not concern itself greatly with these prerequisites: it considered them givens. Whether that assumption was justified is the point of the question, “What holds the European Union together?”

7We will also be looking at the draft to see whether, and in what contexts, the spiritual and cultural dimensions addressed by President Prodi are reflected in the actual text of the constitution, especially the goals it sets out, and how the constitutional dimension relates to the pre-constitutional one.


8First, however, we have to ask, “What has held the European Union together in the approximately 50 years of its existence? Can we assume that the same forces of cohesion will continue to operate in future? What forces can take their place when, as the European Union develops, they exhaust their present strength or, in any event, lose their significance?”

9In the early decades of European integration, from the European Economic Community of the Rome Treaties to the European Union of the 1980s and the early 1990s, several political forces ensured inner cohesion. To begin with, there was a longing for peace in Europe, and for a life worthy of free human beings. The fact that, in the first half of the twentieth century, Europe had nearly succeeded in destroying itself, coupled with the horrors of the Nazi regime, generated a common will and determination among Europeans to do whatever was necessary to prevent a repetition of a European civil war and a renewed threat to human rights. The inner unification of Europe was the only conceivable path to this objective. The determination to take that path was so great that, just a few years after the end of the war, Europe had already overcome the urge for reprisal and revenge against Germany.

10The desire for European unity was encouraged by the common threat emanating from Communism and the Soviet Union. That threat led to the foundation of NATO, and thus to a defense community that included both the United States and the free part of Germany. The Atlantic Community and its clear defensive role also established a bond between the founder members of the European Economic Community, a bond that was stronger than the differences of opinion and clashes of interest that continued to exist after the EEC had been set up.

11Partly as a result of the protection provided by the United States, the European Economic Community was able to concentrate more intensively on the joint reconstruction of a Europe still in ruins. Even the Coal and Steel Community was not intended only to prevent the emergence of new national arms industries. It also sought to lay the foundations for the reconstruction of industry. After the attempt at political integration foundered in the French National Assembly in 1954, economic integration became the accepted approach to European integration.

12Along with economic integration went the expectation of a steadily rising standard of living. In the 1970s the expectation of prosperity solidified into a promise of growth. It has continued to be a determining factor in economic policy in Europe, as it is in all highly developed industrial countries.

13These elemental forces—a longing for peace, a striving for freedom, defense against a common threat, a determination to rebuild and a promise of prosperity—gave direction and meaning to the drive for integration. They reinforced the spiritual, cultural, historical and religious bonds between the Member States of the Union. But they were tied to a particular time. As goals they are still there, but the unifying force they contributed to the development of the European Union has faded.

14This is true above all of the threat from the East, which had died away by the end of the Cold War. To the generations of Europeans now shaping the future, peace and freedom are a matter of course: no special effort is called for to achieve them, and no special effort can be justified by invoking them. With the unification of Germany and Europe, if not before, the common threat from the East was overcome. The Soviet Union is no more. Communist rule has defeated itself.

15The Russia that has emerged within new frontiers maintains close relations with NATO. The former Soviet satellite states are now members of the former defensive alliance. The old NATO is gone. It is true that recent terrorist actions have brought new dangers for Europe. But so far there is no unequivocal threat to all the Member States that could generate an awareness of an immediate common danger, and a need for common defensive measures. The new dangers may unite us, but they may just as easily divide us.

16The joint construction of the European Union by its old Member States is essentially complete. The Union has been knit into an economic and currency union. The integration of its economies has progressed so far that a new separation into independent national economies is inconceivable. The existence of a common market is taken for granted. The original objective of the European Economic Community has been achieved.

17Safeguarding and developing that common market will go on being one of the European Union’s constant concerns. But the Union will also face new economic and social challenges. Markets are expanding beyond its borders and worldwide. Expanding markets are opening up not just new economic opportunities, but also new risks and forms of dependence. The concept of globalization may not explain them, but it does serve as a convenient way to sum them up. Economic growth and the improvement of living standards have fallen behind the levels sought after. The promise that rising unemployment in the European Union would be overcome has, thus far, not been fulfilled. To the great majority of Europeans it seems unlikely that it will be fulfilled in the foreseeable future. Everywhere social security systems are straining the limits of what can be financed, and this is unleashing new uncertainties.

18Enlargement brings further difficulties. Some 75 million Europeans who will vote in elections to the European Parliament for the first time next year are pinning their hopes and expectations on entry to the European Union, a goal that can be met at best within a generation. Their accession will accentuate the East–West prosperity divide within the Union. The inequality among the citizens of the Union is only bound to grow. The accession of the ten central and south-eastern European states will bring difficulties of adaptation and conversion which, in the eyes of many, will outweigh the benefits of enlargement, at least in the next few years.

19These new uncertainties, burdens and dangers originate in part within the European Union itself. In part they are the consequence of the paradigm shift from the industrial age to the age of knowledge, the worldwide interlinking of markets, and of demographic trends in Europe, the Mediterranean area and the world in general. Demographic developments in particular will change the face of Europe in the coming decades. In all Member States the birth rate is below the level that would be needed to renew the population. Some of the lowest rates are to be found in Poland, Germany, Spain and Italy. At the same time, people’s life expectancy is increasing. The generations already born as well as the future generations—for whose well-being, according to the Preamble to the draft Constitution, Europe is responsible— will have to bear burdens that, in their social and personal dimensions, will go beyond anything previously experienced in peacetime.

20What political and social tensions the demographic revolution may generate is difficult to assess. It will certainly call for profound changes in our thinking and in our political and social structures; it will severely test our values. The foreseeable migrations from weaker to stronger regions inside Europe will hold back the development prospects of the weaker areas. This will lead to demands on the Union that will certainly not always be compatible with the “area of freedom, security and justice” referred to in Article 3 of the draft Constitution. It is surprising, therefore, that the draft Constitution takes no real notice, as far as I can see, of these predictable developments and their significance for the Union’s internal cohesion.


21To get an idea of what sort of cohesive forces there will have to be in the European Union in order to hold Europe together in future, at a time when thoroughgoing changes are and will be taking place, we must consider what new problems we can expect it to face, and what forces of cohesion we can hope to be able to rely on.

22First, the new challenges and burdens. These will arise out of the enlargement of the European Union, the effects of the demographic trends already described, the changes in the economy and the labor market, the consequences of globalization for the citizens and their environment, and the paradigm shift from the industrial age to the age of knowledge.

23All of the Member States of the European Union will be forced in the next few years to privatize their social welfare systems, to extend the sphere of the citizen’s own responsibility, to confine state payments to the provision of basic needs, and thus to protect the state from the self-destructive effects of a constant expansion in its responsibilities to its citizens. The public will see the measures this will require as negative and as a breach of social welfare commitments, until such time as they have been convinced that the changes will benefit them in the long term and that to try to continue as before will lead nowhere.

24All Member States will face political challenges of much the same kind, challenges for which, after some thirty years of social welfare and redistributive policies, or a similarly long period within the socialist guardian state, they are not prepared. Smaller Member States will have less difficulty taking on this task than larger ones.

25The enlargement of the European Union will place new burdens on the 15 existing Member States. But it will also increase strains among the 25. Europe will have to live for decades with greater inequality between the living standards and prosperity of the people of its Member States. In Europe there has always been a prosperity divide between East and West. During the division of the continent, this divide merely widened. But in the “old” Union it had no great political effect. With the unification of Germany and Europe, those strong differences have become much clearer. They can be overcome, if at all, only over time-scales measured in generations.

26Inequalities in prosperity between regions within independent States having their own national identity can be accepted and tolerated with relatively little difficulty. But with EU entry and the extension of European rules to the Eastern and Central European accession nations, the barriers that previously made comparisons difficult will be swept away. People in the eastern and south-eastern parts of the continent will begin to take Western levels of prosperity as their yardstick. Just how difficult it will be to convince them that there will necessarily be a long road to travel before they attain standards comparable to those in the West is evident from the German experience. Those concerned, even when it may be unavoidable, will see wider inequality as an injustice, once the old borders have gone and the comparisons that were once impossible begin to be made. The threshold of tolerance will be lowered still further by the transparency of living conditions in the Union that is created by the media.

27Anyone concerning themselves with “values” will have to answer the questions of how wider inequality in the enlarged EU can be politically justified, given the goal of equality between citizens, and of how such inequality may affect the inner cohesion of the EU. Here, we have to understand these values in terms of the economic and social coloring now given to them. This is true especially of solidarity and equality. Equality is now primarily taken to mean equality of economic living conditions, rather than equality before the law.

28That inequalities between Eastern and Western Europe might be offset in the same way as equalities between eastern and western Germany is not to be expected. The European Union would have to earmark some 4 % of its GDP for annual transfer payments for many years to come. The new Member States do not possess the infrastructure— political, economic, social and administrative—that they would need to be able to handle such transfers. In the enlarged European Union there is inevitably going to be wide and continuing inequality for a long time.

29As already mentioned, this may lead to greater East–West mobility in the section of the population whose abilities are in demand in Western Europe. As a rule, these are people who are badly needed for the development of their own countries. Demographic development will reinforce this trend. The full effect of the demographic upheaval will be felt at just about the time the new members become fully integrated into the Union. The Member States will be competing for the elites from “baby-bust” age groups. As the German example illustrates, individual regions’ interest in further economic and scientific development will usually be stronger than any attempt to cater to the development prospects of weaker regions on a nationwide basis. When it comes to relations between Member States, the stronger regions’ desire for development will be tempered even less by considerations of solidarity and common interest. This position is unlikely to be greatly changed by the insistent calls for solidarity within the Union within the Constitutional Treaty and on the part of the political leadership.

30The existing inequality is also not likely to be narrowed by economic growth. Quite to the contrary, sustained economic growth in the EU can only be expected to accentuate it. The fact that EU policy has been strongly oriented towards economic growth has always been problematic. But as long as the economies inside the common market were relatively comparable, the strains created by divergent development could be dealt with. This will change in future. To form an idea of the scale of this growth in inequality, one has to measure economic growth, not in percentages of GDP, but in absolute figures. If percentage growth rates are roughly similar, the inequality due to the different points of departure will grow steadily wider. This also can be seen from the German–German case. A growth-oriented economic policy is worth pursuing, but the promise of growth is not likely to act as a force for cohesion in the enlarged EU.

31Higher rates of growth in the economically stronger Member States will tend, instead, to strengthen the centrifugal forces in the Union. Nor is it to be expected that the strains this will cause can be reduced or removed by transfer payments from the strong to the weak Member States. Experience to date has shown that there is just as little to be hoped from the possibility that the EU might relax its system of rules, the acquis communautaire, so as to allow the weaker Member States to offset their economic weakness by means of greater freedom of organization (subsidiarity) and innovation. Compensatory arrangements of this kind did not work in Germany either.

32What is true of the promise of growth is also true of the promise of social welfare and solidarity, for two reasons. The weaker states, especially the new ones, will find that to extend their social systems on the Western model is beyond their capabilities and will certainly lead to ruin. They will therefore have to look for European support and solidarity. People in the strong Member States, on the other hand, will have to cut back social welfare demands on the state and take over part of the responsibility for their social risks themselves. But this necessity will be dictated, not by considerations of responsible freedom and civil society, but by the threatened insolvency of the state. This justification is also questionable in other respects, but it is not likely to encourage a readiness in stronger states to show solidarity with the weak in any event. Here too the scene is set for new tensions.

33What held the EU together in the past, then, will not hold it together in the same way in future. In some cases the old forces of cohesion are exhausted, and in others the foundations on which they rested have disappeared. The orientation of European integration towards economic, social and financial policy is not by itself enough to bind Europe together: the earlier promises of growth and social welfare can no longer be fulfilled because the desired results cannot be achieved. The causes of economic and social tension in Europe—an overburdened state, mounting inequality, demographic developments and globalization will strengthen the trend towards regional mediation of economic and social interests, towards competition between regions— will, in fact, increase.


34This shift will not threaten the EU’s inner cohesion if other cohesive forces can be mobilized and promoted. But these forces would have to be strong enough to counter the strains caused by continued inequality, competition between regions and within the economy of the EU and the burdens of change. Given the situation, such forces will not be generated primarily by the EU’s economic and social objectives. Neither the European economic and monetary union nor a European labor market and social policy will have the peacemaking and identity- building effect being spoken of here. The EU must have recourse to forces capable of overcoming inner tensions and new challenges, forces that can provide a foundation for cohesion and for European identity independently of economic and social developments. But these new cohesive forces must be sought essentially in the non-economic sector.

35Towards the end of his life, Jean Monnet is reported to have said that, if he had to begin again, he would begin with culture. He may have been right, but that idea is not easy to put into practice. There can be no serious doubt as to Europe’s cultural unity. The West is marked by its Christian religion, its cultural and spiritual heritage, and its common history. But culture and religion have not been determining forces in public life for some time. As public life has become secularized and increasingly centered on the economy, while life in society has been largely individualized, culture and religion have become a private, individual matter and, to a great extent, have lost their power to act as the foundation of a community and an identity. Their place has been taken by the economy, science and technology, the market, and state-imposed solidarity.

36In the United States there is a cohesive force in the form of the nation which transcends the economic to give meaning to the whole, but this would not be possible in Europe if only because there is not going to be a European nation. The United States is a continent united by a nation; Europe is a continent with a multiplicity of nations. European integration aims to transcend the nation state. The nation can therefore be ruled out as a common denominator for Europe.

37It seems quite plain to me that, in order to exist as a political entity, the EU must attach greater importance to what it has in common culturally, in the broadest sense of the word. This will mean that cultural institutions will take on a new political meaning. What we are saving on armies as a result of peace in Europe we should, in order to secure European unity, be investing in education and training, research and development, and in the culture of Europe and its Member States. What people are saving on the cost of bringing up children as a result of demographic developments and the falling birth rate, should be channeled into the education of succeeding generations, and into the building of a stock of capital that will enable those succeeding generations, fewer in number and better educated, to create a standard of living as high as that which the present population of Europe aspires to, or takes for granted.

38The languages of Europe are an intrinsic component of Europe’s identity. They cannot be unified without destroying culture as a force for political cohesion. The common European language is European culture and its emanations in music, literature, painting, sculpture, design and architecture, which are seen by all as European, embodying a European identity. It is this identity whose care, protection and defense must be, and remain, a European responsibility.

39This does not mean that there cannot be a general language of day-to-day contact in Europe, a lingua franca used alongside the many other languages as a more or less technical form of communication in particular fields. Business and finance, the natural sciences and other specialized areas will make use of standard specialized languages. But such languages have a limited capacity to act as the foundation of identity. They will not reach much beyond their particular specialized area, and it would be dangerous to assume otherwise. One can use a lingua franca to describe tears, but not to describe their causes.

40It is important to realize that the cultural dimension of a European identity holding Europe together cannot simply be created by state action. The state can join with the institutions of society to underpin the substance, the development and the care of its cultural heritage, and of contemporary culture in the widest sense. But it cannot enforce a cultural identity. In this respect, whether Europe holds together will, in any event, depend on Europeans themselves.

41Culturally speaking, Europe is a civil society. In recent decades, however, this civil society has come to depend more and more on the guardianship of the welfare state. This has diminished citizens’ independence of action and the exercise of their freedom in ways that make it difficult for Europeans, in both East and West, to meet the expectations associated with a civil society.

42The European experiment can succeed only if the citizens of Europe manage to wean themselves of their dependence on a guardian and interventionist state and develop a society in which they have moved from a state-run to a civil society. The Member States and the Union itself must support this process. Both levels, the individual state and the European level, must expand the “area of freedom.” The Union especially must confine itself to the essential fields in which one public authority can act for all, and at the same time, it must set an example for the individual states.

43We are still a long way from such an approach. By itself, the strong emphasis placed on the principle of subsidiarity in the draft Constitution and in political declarations by the European Council will have no great effect. What must be done is to overcome the centralizing tendencies that have now gripped the EU, driven as they are by European and national bureaucracies. If the contradiction between the constitutional principle of subsidiarity and the reality of accelerating bureaucratic expansion with its centralist tendencies continues to grow, it will place in jeopardy not only the credibility of the Constitution, but also the inner cohesion of the European Union itself.

44The question arises as to what extent the draft Constitutional Treaty is likely to help develop a European civil society, and thus to facilitate the development of the forces that will be decisive for Europe’s inner cohesion. If we look at the Union’s objectives from this point of view (Article 3 of the draft), we see that the first concrete objective mentioned is “the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth.” The Union is to work for “a social market economy, highly competitive and aiming at full employment and social progress, and with a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. It shall promote scientific and technological advance. It shall combat social exclusion and discrimination, and shall promote social justice and protection, equality between women and men, solidarity between generations and protection of children’s rights. It shall promote economic, social and territorial cohesion, and solidarity among Member States.”

45Turning to Part II, “The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Union”, it is striking that the fundamental rights are expressed very much in terms of the rights of working men and women, and of objectives for social security, especially in Title IV, “Solidarity.” Even the legal, economic and social protections of the family are dealt with essentially in the context of working life.

46Thus, large sections of the draft Constitution make clear that the European Union still sees itself primarily as an economic and social union. The draft here follows an approach that has been seen in recent years in resolutions of the European Council. This is especially true of the “special summit” in Lisbon in 2000. There, the way forward was described in terms of a new strategic goal that the Union set for itself “to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.” This goal was to be achieved by means of an overall strategy “designed to enable the Union to regain the conditions for full employment, and to strengthen regional cohesion in the European Union.” Growth targets were set that have since proved unrealistic, and full-employment objectives were formulated that ignored the reality of the labor market and the foreseeable trends.

47Both the policy followed by the Union since Lisbon and the draft Constitution reflect the more general tendency to assume that the experiences of the industrial age and of industrial society are valid for all time. But even today these experiences are often no longer relevant. In the future they will lose even more of their significance. When the draft Constitution enters into force, therefore, a large proportion of its provisions will already have been overtaken by reality. This is true especially of the world of work. The Constitutional Treaty will protect not so much the working population as the acquired rights in which the outdated reality of the industrial society lives on. That cannot be the purpose of a European constitution.

48The fact that the Constitutional Treaty does not go beyond the mainly economic character of European integration but, in effect, carries it forward in its objectives, and in other aspects as well, will prove to be one of the major problems facing the further political integration of the European Union. At bottom, the mistake that has thus far characterized the Member States and the process of European integration—the idea that the state can not only plan economic development, full employment and growth but can also use state resources to guarantee them—is being repeated in the draft Constitution.

49The danger in such a policy is that it will necessarily lead to disappointment and will thus diminish the legitimacy the Union needs in order to be able to shape the future. I have been warning for many years, especially in light of the process of German integration, against expecting the motive forces for integration to come primarily from commitments to economic and social growth and prosperity. A European Union that, as its highest goals, promises full employment, gainful activity for 70 % of the population of employable age, economic growth, increasing prosperity and comprehensive social security makes its existence dependent on its ability to achieve these objectives. If it cannot deliver, it does not simply lose a measure of authority and legitimacy: it endangers the inner cohesion of the Union and strengthens the tendency among Europeans to turn to their own states, with their supposed capacity to provide protection against the consequences of broken European promises.

50If, therefore, we want European integration to last, we must ask ourselves in good time what will hold Europe together if economic and social promises cannot be kept, or cannot be kept in full. The question of what holds Europe together takes on even greater importance in times of economic and social tensions and crises. That such tensions and crises may arise in the coming years and decades is obvious. We must expect them. If in a united Europe we decide to give ourselves a constitution, we will do well not to fill it largely with economic and social commitments. It should rather set out the basis of an answer to the question as to what will hold Europe together even when economic and social promises fail to do so.


51For further political work in Europe, we need not only to identify other forces for political integration and cohesion, but also to draw conclusions for present and future European policy from the continuing fragility of that cohesion. Against this background, particular dangers for the inner cohesion of the European Union could arise out of the continuation of the policy of the welfare state, which, in major Member States such as Germany, France and Italy, has led to the virtually uncontrolled expansion of public debt and a steady increase in state intervention. Both of these developments cripple the economic forces at work and, as a consequence of the overextension of its responsibilities, weaken the state and its institutions. This provides special interests with a growing influence over the allocation of resources, thereby increasing the potential for conflict arising out of social policy.

52This misguided development would receive special impetus from the enlargement of the European Union. The Union is being joined by ten states where social policy has been highly developed as a means of domination and where the capacity of large sections of the population to take responsibility for themselves is highly underdeveloped. A danger which I believe is just as significant is the possibility that European identity mediated through bureaucracy will obscure and neutralize the forces and values from which the unity of the Union and its legitimacy as the jointly defined community of all citizens in the Union ultimately derive.

53Every bureaucracy—especially a European bureaucracy in alliance with the bureaucracies of its Member States—has an inherent tendency to shake off the substantive legitimation provided by the state and to become an end in itself, supposing itself to be the real supporting structure of the state’s inner cohesion and purpose. This puts the bureaucracy in permanent conflict with the pre-constitutional forces, which in reality empower the entity that they have formed into a state and establish the goals towards which it is to work for the good of its citizens. Bureaucracies that step outside their service role cease to be servants and become masters, imposing anonymous control without transparent and personal accountability for the consequences of their actions. In the society in which they operate, they are not capable of generating inner cohesion resting on common convictions.

54A solid European identity, a vigorous inner cohesion between Member States and citizens, can be ensured only if the incipient development of a European spirit of community is not overstrained but instead treated with care. This is true especially of the attempt to make the Union’s inner cohesion a matter of the solidarity of the Member States and their citizens in European affairs. We should think twice before putting our trust in solidarity as a force for cohesion. First, there will be solidarity between the Union’s Member States only insofar as their interests coincide. Divergences of interest between Member States can be overcome by calls for solidarity only to a limited extent.

55In societies constitutionally formed into states, making solidarity effective by the enactment of laws (collective solidarity) presumes an inner cohesion in the community strong enough to allow the burdens associated with state-imposed solidarity to be absorbed. In other words, legally enforceable solidarity does not create inner cohesion; it assumes its existence. The European Union must therefore be cautious in making demands on its citizens in the name of European solidarity. In addition, it is one of the foundations of a civil society that it seeks a balance between personal and collective solidarity. A readiness for personal solidarity is as much an integral part of a society of citizens as is a readiness to assume responsible freedom. The advocates of state-organized solidarity who deny that readiness are denying the possibility of a civil society.

56This brings us back to the acknowledgment of a principle that is also relevant to the process of European unification and to Europe’s inner cohesion: the strongest bond within the Union is provided by common interests. The best way to shape the Union is to genuinely limit European institutions to European essentials and to renounce excessive regulation, overt or covert extension of responsibilities, the prevention of diversity in the name of the need for uniform regulation, and all forms of government guardianship.

57The draft Constitution makes no great contribution to the realization of these insights. That is why it is not widely seen by the public as a genuine recasting of the European Community—in so far as the public is aware of it at all. A political debate on the new Constitutional Treaty in the European Union that is worthy of the name has yet to take place. Without such a debate we will not be able to deepen our understanding of the forces on which we will depend if Europe is to endure as a political union.


Kurt Biedenkopf is professor of law and economist. Prime Minister of Saxony from 1990 until 2002; former President of the German Bundesrat. Member of the IWM’s Board of Patrons and of the Reflection Group on the Spiritual and Cultural Dimension of Europe (2002–2004). Author of 1989–1990: ein deutsches Tagebuch, Berlin, 2000; Einheit und Erneuerung. Deutschland nach dem Umbruch in Europa, Stuttgart, 1994.

© Central European University Press, 2005

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