Attitudes to solidarity in the European Union

Thomas Raines

Questions of solidarity go to the heart of the European project. While solidarity implies ties of support and sympathy across national boundaries, notions of EU solidarity have been under strain in recent years. In particular, the euro crisis created a divisive narrative between ‘creditor’ and ‘debtor’ states laced with moral fervour on both sides, while the refugee crisis generated radically different responses across the continent. Lingering tensions over the proper balance between solidarity and individual responsibility demonstrate some of the challenges of promoting the EU’s treaty objective of solidarity. These tensions are also reflected in the competing interpretations of solidarity at play in a union with very different levels of wealth and prosperity.

The UK’s EU referendum debate was a recent and striking example. Britain is a net contributor to the EU’s budget, and for a country whose commitment to European integration rested more on a calculation of costs and benefits than a sense of European identity or vocation, any net contribution became harder to defend. Simply put, solidarity was in short supply.

For these reasons, solidarity was one of the issues examined as part of a new project on attitudes to the future of Europe led by Chatham House.

Notions of EU solidarity have been under strain in recent years, as exemplified by the divisive UK referendum vote to leave the EU. Photo credit: Alex J White.

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