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What Holds Europe Together?

Krzysztof Michalski


Solidarity on Trial

Danuta Hübner

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1Solidarity is a basic value of the Union. It is highlighted in the draft Constitutional Treaty. It appears as one of the fundamental objectives of the Union and again in the preamble to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, as one of the principles on which the Union is built.

2Unfortunately the Constitution cannot match the simple Oxford English Dictionary definition of solidarity as ‘unity resulting from common interests, feelings, or sympathies.’ Does solidarity in this sense exist within the Union or is it simply a fine word that covers up disunity and national interests? And is solidarity, if it did exist between member states, now stretched to the breaking point by enlargement of the Union to ten relatively poorer and more agricultural new member states? Will this solidarity pass the test of the recent enlargement and beyond?

3The Europe Paper argues that the “old forces of integration—the desire for peace, the existence of external threats, and the potential for economic growth—lose their effectiveness,” and that “the spiritual factor of European integration will inevitably grow in importance as a source of unity and cohesion.” This would imply a shift in the European identity paradigm that—in my view—moves from identifying Europe by what unites us towards identifying it by what differentiates us from the rest of the world. I would not feel very comfortable with this change.

4Nobody would question that culture contributes to Europe’s unity. However, let us not forget that Europe’s history contains periods when neighboring cultures did not communicate, as well as periods of strong cultural cohesion, which, unfortunately, did not prevent the outbreak of endless wars between Europeans. While I would agree that cultural and spiritual factors matter greatly, I would insist that economic and political unity, as well as common institutions, are a precondition to sustainable peace in Europe and to Europe’s successful response to globalization.

5It is also worth pointing out that the old forces are still significant. While we can accept the fact that peace between the European nations is assured and that they have ceased to be a potent force for further integration, they remain fundamental values for all Europeans. Indeed when we look around the troubled world, we should be careful about assuming anything about peace in Europe. We need to keep working at ensuring that the conditions for peace are guaranteed in the long-term future. I would also qualify the external threats to peace as being more dangerous than those that existed before 1990.

6I think we should also point out that the performance of the economy is a fundamental part of the integration process. It is difficult to imagine solidarity in the Union growing stronger in the face of a serious economic downturn. Indeed, our experience of recent years shows us that slow economic growth in Europe has already led to some real decline in the feeling of solidarity and may be a contributing factor in reducing public support for integration in the Union. Therefore, the link between economic performance and solidarity matters. One should, however, ask the question whether this is really a result of poor economic growth or has more to do with a change in European society.

7I would attribute this worrisome decline in solidarity—even though it is a characteristic of European society in general—to three factors: the rise of individualism, the strain of accelerating social change, and poor economic performance.

8Yet we nonetheless have a stronger basis for reinforcing solidarity in the Union than we sometimes think. The twenty-five member states share fundamental values as well as interests, not to mention their history. Even in their ‘Weltanschauungen’ they seem remarkably similar when viewed from outside. We Europeans often talk about the contrast between the liberal, individualistic, private sector-orientated British and Irish, as opposed to the statist tendencies of the French and the Germans, with their national championships and extensive social security systems. But looked at from America, Asia or Africa, these differences are not at all obvious. In spite of Donald Rumsfeld’s remarks, Europe is definitely seen from outside as a whole, and clearly distinct from the economic and social systems prevalent in other parts of the world.

9From outside, Europe is thought to be ‘more social’ and ‘more compassionate’ than many other societies. This is part of the ‘common European cultural space’ the paper talks about. Our challenge is to combine this with efficiency in the global economy. We must avoid descending into a totally individualistic, egoistic society. I disagree with Margaret Thatcher, who is supposed to have said that ‘society’ as a concept did not exist, but we must avoid the trap of developing into a society wherein individual merit and risk-taking are stifled and enterprises suffocated.

10I want to challenge the view that solidarity has been put at risk by the enlargement of the Union to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. I would suggest that this is in fact not the case and that the values and interests of the new member states coincide in most ways with those of the EU-15. However, it is certainly true that the enlargement has fundamentally changed the Union and given rise to new policy concerns and some new problems. The new member states in Central and Eastern Europe are deeply embedded in the economic, social and cultural development of our Continent. The ties that bind us together were challenged by forty years of Soviet domination, but this has not fundamentally changed the European character of these European states.

11My country, Poland, has always had deep cultural ties to the other European countries, especially to France. We have participated in all the major developments in European film culture, as well as in music and literature. In sports, the German national football team before the First World War consisted entirely of players with Polish names. But, above all, there is a sentiment among Poles, but also among Hungarians, Czechs and others, that they are Europeans in a very deep sense. This is what the Oxford Dictionary calls ‘unity resulting from feelings and sympathies.’

12Solidarity, in the sense of unity resulting from common interests, also clearly exists within the Union, both the EU-15 and the enlarged Union. This is really demonstrated by the very few policy issues on which there is disunity. The disunity over the Iraq question disguises the fact that member state foreign ministers agree on almost all the foreign affairs dossiers that arrive on their desks. Disagreements on the question of the community patent disguise the fact that the internal market has never been contested by any member state, new or old.

13The enlargement process itself is also manifestly a symbol of European social, civic and cultural unity. The fact that there was much debate over the enlargement, as well as some dispute, should not be allowed to detract from the fact that both the old member states and the new were convinced that they had an obligation to rebuild the Continent after 40 years of division. The enlargement is an expression of just those cultural and spiritual dimensions that Professors Biedenkopf and Michalski discuss in their paper.

14But how do we deal with the questions that the two authors raise at the end of their paper? Europe is no longer a purely Jewish/Christian and white continent. Will our citizens whose origin is on another continent and whose religion is Hindu or Islam, Sikh or Buddhist, be able to identify with these ‘European’ values, with European culture? Will they be able to feel European, as the Poles or the Czechs have always felt? This question applies equally to the enlargement with Turkey. Is European integration about respecting someone’s values? Is it about sharing them or about contributing to them, or about being capable of contributing to them constantly?

15These are difficult questions. They are particularly difficult if we see culture as a cement for the future of Europe. I think all countries started off believing that their migrants could be assimilated in the same way that Polish migrants were assimilated into the Ruhr region in the nineteenth century. That this has not happened, at least on a large scale, is not to say that it cannot happen. Look at the growing number of prominent Turkish-origin citizens in Germany. Or at how many second generation Indian and Pakistani Britons one now sees in business suits and with computers, flying everywhere in the world. But we have to admit that these are still the exceptions rather than the rule. Once again, I am sure that solidarity must play a role in this integration process. Many of our immigrant groups find themselves on the edge of our societies. They are flung back into their own communities by the impossibility of social and economic integration with mainstream society. The constant threat of terrorism has made this isolation even more dramatic for Islamic populations.

16These problems must be addressed if we are going to ensure that we have a Union of values with ‘unity resulting from feelings and sympathies.’

17Europe is different. Europe is a continent we all love, with values that we all admire. But we cannot rest there. The spiritual and cultural dimension of Europe will not survive neglect. It requires continual care and development if it is going to be the element that drives forward integration in Europe.


Danuta Hübner is economist and European Commissioner for Regional Policy; formerly Minister for European Affairs in Poland.

© Central European University Press, 2005

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