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What Holds Europe Together?

Krzysztof Michalski


Europe’s Solidarity Deficit

Ivan Krastev

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1What once upon a time was the “unification of Europe” has turned into the enlargement of the EU. But it is precisely because the enlargement of the European Union is no longer the unification of Europe that Brussels faces a major problem—a problem that is more profound than the democracy deficit: the solidarity deficit.

2In 1992 the President of the European Commission, Jacque Delors, called for “a soul of Europe,” arguing that if Brussels wasn’t able to inject a spiritual dimension into the EU, it would fail to command the allegiance of its citizens. Delors’s words were often quoted, but never taken seriously. The EU of today is a triumph of political constructivism.

3In the context of this over-powerful institutionalist perspective on the future, the conclusions of the Reflection Group on the Spiritual and Cultural Dimension of Europe are both thoughtful and timelier than ever. They bring back the problem of Europe’s soul, not as an intellectual, but as an urgent, political issue. And this takes place in a political context where any mention of the cultural foundations of the EU is perceived as a veiled criticism of Turkey’s membership in the Union.

4In the view of the Reflection Group, “political union needs political cohesion, a politically grounded solidarity and common interests.” In this view, the existing factors of cohesion are losing their relative significance. The common experience of WWII, the common external threat (the Soviet Union), and the economic growth and promise of affluence as community-forming goals are losing their effectiveness. Europe needs cultural foundations. Only culture can compensate for the increasingly obvious lack of solidarity in Europe—a lack of solidarity not only on an institutional, but also on an individual, level. In the words of the Europe Paper: “when individual solidarity is not there, institutionally based solidarity is not enough to bring a polity into being.” The mobilization of European solidarity is defined as the important long-term task of European politics.

5My own reflections on the state of European project shares a similar concern. A deficiency of solidarity is what really should be bothering anybody who believes that the EU is something more than a common market or a common security space. But while the group’s reflections are focused on the decline of solidarity in the the “old Europe,” what really worries me is the lack of solidarity in the “new Europe.” This deficit of individual solidarity could be observed both on the level of one’s own society, and even more on the level of Europe as a whole. The truth is that the new EU members suffered an even more profound lack of solidarity, both inside their own societies and with respect to Europe, than did Western Europeans. In a way similar to Western Europe, Eastern European societies have lost the three sources of their “Solidarity moment,” namely the communist state they opposed, the economy of deficit that brought them together on a day-to-day basis, and the sense of national dignity they preserved against the internationalist orthodoxy of official Marxism. It does not require special research to conclude that the societies that gave birth to “Solidarity” are lacking solidarity.

6The intuition of the Reflection Group is that one of the sources for solidarity-building in Europe could be a re-consideration of the role of religions (in plural) within the European project. Though never explicitly stated, it is obvious that the group does not believe the EU can succeed as a secularist project. In this respect there are striking parallels between some of the arguments presented in the Europe Paper and the discussions in Polish leftist oppositional circles somewhere around 1976–1980. Therefore, it might be a good idea for some of the proponents of EU integration to re-read Michnik’s book, “The Church and the Left,” written exactly in 1976.

7The conclusions of the Reflection Group recommend a new dialogue and rapprochement between the Left and different religions in Europe. This is a very important message, but it should be read with an understanding of the different contexts. For someone like me, coming from a country where the Orthodox Church failed to reestablish solidarity in the society and where its basic objective is to use the power of the state to preserve its dominant role, the prospects for real dialogue are not extremely promising. But, in other parts of Europe, this could be exactly what is needed.

8What is at stake is a pan-European rapprochement between religions (primarily Catholicism and Islam) and the Left. But could this rapprochement be the framework for re-negotiating the soul of Europe?

9In my view such a dialogue is not going to be an easy one. On one hand, the European Left is scared by the rise of the role of religion in the U.S., and it is the secular character of the European project that constitutes the very definition of the new European identity. On the other hand, the rise of Islam will reactivate the public presence of the Christian Churches and strengthen fundamentalist trends in the Catholic Church. This is the worst-case scenario. But this is not the only possible scenario, and we should be grateful to the Reflection Group for the opportunity to discuss more than merely one.


Ivan Krastev is Director of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia and Executive Director of the International Commission on the Balkans. He is recently author of Nationalism After Communism: Lessons Learned (co-edited with A. Mungiu-Pippidi), Central European University Press, 2004.

© Central European University Press, 2005

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