Bertelsmann Stiftung

Europe’s new story: Solidarity and self-assertion

Leading politicians in the European Union do not have it easy these days. Not only because they have to accomplish the complicated rescue of the monetary union. They also have to explain why it has to be that way and how we benefit from it. Very often ‘Europe’ is shortened to ‘euro’ in their statements, and the common objectives of the Union to very common money.

Why is Europe necessary? How can you comprehensibly explain what really holds this union together? This requires clear central concepts. Yesterday, it was all about “expanding and deepening”, but this chapter came to an end with the major expansion in 2004 and the Lisbon Treaty. Now, the central concepts of “solidarity and self-asserti on” dominate the new story of Europe. How solidarity and self-assertion fit into this European Union now and in the coming years is demonstrated on the one hand by the crisis in the monetary union (which is not a crisis of the euro), and on the other by the role Europe plays on the world stage.

The term solidarity has a long history dating back to the beginning of the EEC with the Common Agricultural Policy and the European Social Fund. There is no need to go over this part of the story again. It seems more helpful to take a look at the Lisbon Treaty. The central concept is described in Article 3 Para. 3 of the TEU: the union “promotes economic, social and territorial cohesion and solidarity among member states.” So those who want to expel the Greeks and the Portuguese or other nations from the union out of populist arrogance simply want to break the treaty.

The treaty applies the term solidarity not only within the union. Article 3, Para. 5 also explicitly relates it to the world: “In its relationships to the rest of the world the union protects and promotes its values and interests and contributes to the protection of its citizens…” This is helpful for the definition of “self-assertion”: The treaty does not shy away from confidently representing the union’s interests on the world stage.

It is similarly explicit with the term “solidarity” as laid down in Article 3, Para. 3: “The union establishes a single market. It influences the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability - a highly competitive social market economy aiming at full employment and social progress, as well as a high level of environmental protection and improving the quality of the environment. It promotes scientific and technical progress. It fights against social exclusion and discrimination and promotes social equality and social protection…”.

You hardly ever hear such words from our politicians these days. Consequently, the people are more and more sceptical about a union that seems to have lost itself in fighting the crisis and trying to rescue the euro and does not even seem to know why it has done so. We often hear that there is a lack of solidarity. Solidarity is the well-understood self-interest in this union. According to the cry of the three musketeers ‘one for all and all for one’ – this should create the strength that makes Europe’s self-assertion possible.

This lack of solidarity became apparent in the discussions ab out rescuing the monetary union. In the public debate there appears to be a lot of disagreement about how to interpret Article 125, Para.1 and Art.122, Para. 2 TFEU: Article 122 applies to emergency measures, i.e. assistance. Article 125 establishes a limitation on liability, so-called bailout prohibition.

Only rarely is Article 3 (3), which is quoted above, referred to in this debate, although it is the ideal superstructure for all of the subsequent articles. Liability means the automatic acceptanc e of a debt b y a third party. This means the union can, but does not have to intervene for other member states. There is no prohibition on support in the treaty – but there is also no automatic dictate in favour of supp ort. Solidarity is a matter of political discretion. And this is what happened at the EU summit in July 2011: the European Council used this margin of discretion, because help was in everybody’s interest. In return, Greece is expected to act in a way that expresses solidarity: they finally ha ve to take r esponsibility, reduce their debts, end their consumption on tick and become competitive.

In this current crisis in particular, the union must promote “economic, social and territorial cohesion and solidarity among member states”. This requires better explanations of the decisions made. It is not only about Greece alone - nor is it only about better monetary union: it is all about the European Union, which finally has to live up to its name again.

The Lisbon Treaty offers the right aims in simple words. You only have to read it. Solidarity and self-assertion are aims this union has certainly not achieved yet. Europe’s new story describes the union’s future objectives.

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