Nowadays it is often alleged that the European Union’s sense of solidarity was put in jeopardy, if not shattered outright, by its enlargement to take in the countries of central and eastern Europe. As Bulgaria and Romania come closer to membership, and with accession talks with Turkey and Croatia set to begin, it has become increasingly important to challenge that view.
The values and interests of the EU’s newest member states coincide in most ways with those of the 15 earlier members. It is, of course, true that enlargement has fundamentally changed the Union and given rise to new problems and policy concerns. But 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 frayed by forty years of Soviet domination, but this did not fundamentally change these states’ European character.
My country, Poland, has always had deep cultural ties to other European countries, especially France. We participated in all the major developments in European music, literature, and film (think of Andrzej Wajda’s films from the Solidarity era, such as “Danton,” which were French co-productions).
Even in sport, East Europeans have long been integrated with the rest of Europe. Indeed, before World War I the German national football team consisted entirely of players with Polish names. But, above all, there is a deep sense among Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, and others, that they are Europeans. This is the very meaning of the word “solidarity,” as defined in the Oxford English Dictionary: “unity resulting from feelings and sympathies.”