Europe's Solidarity under Siege

Is the European Union's solidarity fracturing? After bruising enlargement negotiations and internal differences over Iraq, and with similar divisions surrounding the new EU constitution and the common European foreign and defense policy, one might well think just that. Public opinion polls also show a dramatic decline in support for enlargement within the current EU member states. Whether or not the crisis of European solidarity is real is a fundamental question, because the EU will not survive without solidarity, at least not as we know it.

The sense of equality and solidarity is a necessary foundation of any democratic community. In the 1950's the British sociologist T. S. Marshall wrote about the progress of rights, from civil rights in the 18 th century, to political (democratic) rights in the 19 th century, to social rights in the 20 th century. These three dimensions--liberal, democratic and social--describe the modern European nation state.

Solidarity played the most central role in the 20 th century. Indeed, it was the driving force behind the development of the European countries in the wake of World War II, and led to their transformation into "social states" emphasizing social security and a variety of welfare programs. We can measure this "institutionalized solidarity" in a nation state by the share of redistribution in its GDP.

There is also another level of solidarity, which we can call universal or global solidarity. Its importance--reflected in various forms of international aid-- has been very limited until now. Its objective is not to ensure the equality of citizens' rights, but to guarantee minimum life conditions. Humanitarian interventions--much discussed in the 1990's--are another manifestation of this global solidarity.