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What Holds Europe Together?

Krzysztof Michalski

The European Union’s Enlargement to the East and Solidarity

Jacques Rupnik

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1The word “solidarity” has been severely battered about by recent European history. It is part of both the Christian and Socialist traditions. The Communists’ use, and abuse, of the term has largely contributed to its discrediting, with officially proclaimed solidarity becoming identified with the privileges of the ruling caste, while the term “brotherly help” was used to describe the occupation of a country with a different understanding of socialism. The first historical irony was when a Polish workers’ movement in 1980 again gave “solidarity” a good name and rescued it from the so-called United Polish Workers Party (every word in the title being seen by Solidarnosc members as a lie). That rehabilitation of the word by Walesa’s followers and Tischner’s writings was of significance for the whole of Europe. And if the European Union is seeking inspiration, this remains as good a source as any.

2The second great historical irony was that, after the collapse of communism, Chicago school free market economic liberalism was introduced in Poland under the banner of a trade union called Solidarity! The third irony, again with a Polish twist, came with the European Union’s enlargement to the East and its “historic” summit in Copenhagen on 13 December 2002. The date coincided with the anniversary of General Jaruzelski’s coup against Solidarity in December 1981. It was therefore tempting for the Polish prime minister, Leszek Miller, to point to the long road “from Polish Solidarity to European solidarity.” Yet the slogan had a somewhat hollow ring to it. First, because Miller himself was no freedom fighter, but belonged to the Communist apparatus that brought down the Solidarity movement. And second because “European solidarity” was nowhere to be seen at the Copenhagen Summit, which displayed the triumph of the accountant’s approach to enlargement to public opinion throughout Europe for the first time.

3Indeed, the issue of the cost and the terms of including new members confronts the EU with a question about the future: can it do for Eastern Europe what it has done with such impressive success for Southern Europe? The second, no less important, question concerns the future of a distinct European social and economic model in an enlarged EU. The first issue raises criticisms and fears among the new members from the East. The second raises concerns particularly among the Union’s “old” founding members.

European solidarity, the costs of enlargement and asymmetrical integration

4In the process of reconnecting with Western Europe, along with the prospect of belonging to the community of democratic nations, there were two other expectations in Central and Eastern Europe: modernization and solidarity. The Spanish model was present in the minds of Polish (and other) political elites not just for its negotiated transition to democracy, but because Europe had contributed so much to the transformation of a backward rural country emerging from four decades of dictatorship into a prosperous, modern nation, fully integrated into the mainstream of the European Union. Hence the question in Central European minds: Could the EU do for them what it had done so successfully for Southern Europe? The answer is probably not, or certainly not on a comparable scale.

5One need only compare the modest resources made available. The 10 new countries have 75 million inhabitants, making up nearly one third of the EU’s territory, but account for less than 5 % of the EU’s combined GDP. If the Copenhagen terms of enlargement are anything to go by, the prospects of correcting this imbalance are rather limited. The total planned expenditure for the period 2004–2006 is 40 billion euros, from which more than one third should be deducted to account for the newcomers’ contributions to the EU budget and their difficulties in qualifying for EU regional funds. This leads the author of a recent study commissioned by Jacques Delors’ think tank “Notre Europe” to conclude that “the amounts allocated to the 10 candidate countries are in no way comparable to the much more generous terms granted to Spain and Portugal” in the mid-1980’s.

6This state of affairs prompts three related observations. First, it challenges the prevailing concept of a “light” enlargement, i.e. the idea that you can expand to include a dozen poor countries while upholding the sacrosanct “doctrine” of an EU budgetary limit set at 1.27 % of the EU’s GDP (which is currently no more than 1 %). The question of solidarity and the EU budget thus inevitably raises the issue of Europe’s fiscal capacity to create transfers of wealth. This in turn would involve the European Parliament having a say on the level of budgetary resources, and not just as to how they are used.

7The second issue is that solidarity is closely related to policy reform. This applies to both agricultural policy (CAP) and the socalled Structural Funds. The agricultural policy makes up about 45 % of the EU budget for 4 % of the population, and a mere 2 % of the EU’s GDP. If the policy is not reformed for the sake of solidarity in the context of enlargement to the East, then it should be reformed for the sake of solidarity with the Third World countries seeking access to EU markets.

8The third point concerns the strengthening and redefinition of the cohesion policies. A report for the President of the EU Commission, presented by Andre Sapir on behalf of a group of policy advisers in July 2003, clearly argues for an eastward reorientation of those policies to benefit those most needing them. This directly challenges the present beneficiaries, principally Spain, which now gets over one third of the funds, and Greece which gets about one fifth, but also Portugal and Ireland. But it is precisely those who have benefited most from European solidarity over the past 20 years who are least eager to share with their “poor relations” on the Danube.

9The enlargement to the East is a case of asymmetrical integration. The asymmetry has facilitated the transfer of norms and institutional convergence, but not a commensurate transfer of resources. In this the EU’s function of regulation takes precedence over the function of redistribution. Yet the regulatory function is likely to be accepted as legitimate by the newcomers from Central and Eastern Europe if it remains to some extent related to redistribution. Otherwise, cynics may be tempted to conclude that this is a case of “the less there is to distribute, the more there is to regulate.”

The viability of a European social and economic model post-enlargement

  • 1 Cf. Michel Albert, Capitalisme contre capitalisme, Paris, 1992.
  • 2 Cf. Dominique Schnapper, La democratie providentielle, Paris, 2002.

10It has often been argued that a European social and economic model combining competitiveness and solidarity has become an important part of the identity and cohesion of the EU, distinguishing it from the American (or Anglo-Saxon) free market model.1 A specifically European response to the challenges of globalization is founded on the idea that there are certain spheres of social life—such as healthcare, education, the environment or culture—which should not simply be left to market forces. And it can indeed be argued that post-war European integration has developed in parallel with the welfare state in its Member States.2 In fact, the European social model is part and parcel of the identity of the EU Member States more than of the EU per se.

11Some scholars, like Claus Offe, have even argued that the EU has eroded the welfare state. That fear is clearly present in a number of EU Member States, particularly in the Nordic countries, as witnessed by recent referenda in Denmark or Sweden. Hence the question: what is the future of that social model in the face of the combined challenges of globalization and EU enlargement?

12There is a fairly widespread assumption or apprehension that the newcomers from Central and Eastern Europe are mostly liberal free-marketers, who have spent the last decade dismantling the remnants of state socialism, making them unlikely to identify with the so-called “European social and economic model” inherited from Western European Social and Christian Democrats. To be sure, it was Milton Friedman and Margaret Thatcher, rather than Jacques Delors or the SPD manifesto, who provided the inspiration for Leszek Balcerowicz and Vaclav Klaus in shaping the transition to capitalism. And it is also true that most of the new members tend to oppose any EU regulation on taxation and social norms in order, quite understandably, to retain their comparative advantage for Western investors.

13The short answer to those who voice such concerns is that the “Rhineland model” is no longer a model (with zero growth and 10 % unemployment). The only way to preserve a “European social model” is to enlarge it eastwards. And the only way to do that is to reform it in the West.

14There are, however, two factors that could help the EU move in that direction. Most of the reasons—such as demographic decline and the implosion of health care and pension systems—why the post-war European social system is bursting at the seams are now common to both the old and new EU members. The Czech or Hungarian populations are declining in the same way as those of Spain or Italy and the pressures for reform are very similar. No less importantly, whatever the differences of policies pursued by the so-called old and new Europeans, they are not confirmed by public opinion in their respective countries. According to the 2003 report of the Pew Global Attitudes Project,3 there is in fact a fair amount of convergence between Central and Eastern Europe and Western Europe on the major issues concerning the relationship between the market and a social safety net guaranteed by the State. There remains an underlying commitment to a reformed version of a “social market economy.”

15The old European social model is in tatters. Its reform, or rather its re-invention, involves redefining what solidarity is supposed to mean at the beginning of the 21st century. Its only chance may be as a joint endeavor between the old and new Union members.

The erosion of solidarity and the political bond

16The historical sequence of Western democracies outlined by Thomas H. Marshall—from civil rights and the rule of law in the 18th century to political rights and representative democracy in the 19th century to social rights based on solidarity in the 20th century—has some relevance for European integration as well: from the “acquis communautaire” and the rule of law to a quest for democratic legitimacy beyond that derived from the Member States, and for solidarity (reducing differences between Member States through re-distribution).

17This pattern has been eroding since the end of the Cold War, primarily on the level of internal solidarity within states (between rich and poor regions). This was a contributing factor (though not necessarily a decisive one) in the break-up of Yugoslavia and of Czechoslovakia. One of the features of Alpine populism, including Bossi’s Northern League in Italy, Blocher’s movement in Switzerland and Haider’s in Austria is the rejection of redistribution to poorer neighbors/ foreigners. But this trend also applies to external solidarity. The growing disinclination to help developing countries is a clear illustration.

18It is in that context that one can also analyze the erosion of solidarity in the enlarged European Union. There are a variety of reasons for this in Western Europe, ranging from lack of vision and leadership by European leaders unable to formulate a long-term European project in which the new “other European” members would be seen as a positive contribution to the narrow corporatist interests of this or that section of society. The latter defend the status quo, playing on their constituencies’ egoism and fears. But there are also some specific Central and Eastern European contributions to that process:

  1. To be a committed advocate of the free market does not necessarily help you to argue the case for re-distribution on a European level with Western European interlocutors (let alone public opinion).
  2. The new members from Central and Eastern Europe tend to see and present the EU as primarily an economic institution, as opposed to NATO, which is primarily political and based on common values. If that is the case, then there is little point or credibility in invoking EU solidarity.
  3. It is difficult to advocate “solidarity” in the EU when so little of it has been evident among Central Europeans in the past decade. Once they are in the EU, will they advocate greater solidarity with the poor and downtrodden future candidates from the Balkans? And yet this is perhaps where EU solidarity is most needed, not just as a moral obligation, but also out of obvious self-interest.
  4. At the end of the day, solidarity can only be based on a political bond. In siding so resolutely with the US against “old Europe” in the transatlantic crisis (regardless of the intrinsic merits or otherwise of the Iraq war), the Central and Eastern European EU members have, along with others, contributed to undermining the political bonds within the enlarged EU. The moment of Europe’s unification was obviously that of its division. Among the first casualties are public support for EU enlargement and the will to demonstrate (in concrete terms) solidarity with new members. Their security interests might well lie with the US, but their long-term economic interests are clearly with the EU. The political elites of these countries have failed to fully appreciate the implications of their stance.

19The pattern of redistribution after enlargement observed in the case of Southern Europe (around 5 % of GDP) is unlikely to be repeated in the case of Central and Eastern Europe. In the former case, redistribution was related not just to lofty ideas of solidarity after emerging from dictatorship, but also to the ability of small newcomers to block big projects. With the enlargement and a new Constitution, the EU is completing its last major project. The absence of “major projects,” combined with the end of unanimity (and along with it, the end of blackmail), is also likely to herald the end of major redistribution.

20Differences on foreign policy issues, on the extent of redistribution, or on the design of institutions are a normal part of the political debate in the European Union. What could be worrying for the future of the EU is an overlap between the divisions at work in the transatlantic relations, the Constitution elaborated by the European Convention, and the European social and economic model. It is very important to avoid such an overlap in the perceptions of elites and of public opinion if we want to avoid the hardening of a European divide and wish instead to see the word “solidarity” retain its meaning at the heart of the European project.


1 Cf. Michel Albert, Capitalisme contre capitalisme, Paris, 1992.

2 Cf. Dominique Schnapper, La democratie providentielle, Paris, 2002.

3 “Views of a Changing World, June 2003”, Washington (


Jacques Rupnik is Research Director at CERI—Fondation National des Sciences Politiques, Paris, and Visiting Professor at the Collège d’Europe in Bruges. Between 1990–1992 advisor to Czech President Vaclav Havel. Author of International Perspectives on the Balkans, Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, 2003; The Road to the European Union: The Czech and Slovak Republics (ed.), Manchester UP, 2003; Le printemps tchécoslovaque: 1968 (ed.), Brussels, 1999; L’autre Europe, crise et fin du communisme, Paris, 1993.

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