Back in the 50’s solidarity was one of the main drivers behind the decision of Benelux, France and Germany to create a common market for steel and coal. Since then, solidarity stood at the core of the European project and played a major role in the EU’s expansion towards Eastern Europe.
Both in 2004 and 2007, solidarity emerged as an instrument to fight against the well-known cleavage of reach versus poor countries. Despite having weak democratic institutions and non-functional market economies, twelve new countries received a green light for accession. Being part of the EU ensured both the West and the future member states that their path to democratization is irreversible. Furthermore, all twelve countries were eligible to receive funds through the Cohesion Policy as a way to reduce their social, economic and territorial disparities.
Solidarity has not grown obsolete ever since and has even become contentious. At the moment, the sovereign debt crisis and the bail out of several member states like Greece, Ireland, and Cyprus divides the Member States and question their financial, economic and social solidarity.
With Germany as the strongest and largest European economy the EU’s architecture is also changing. We are no longer in the status of a “no single member state or national culture is dominant or controls the direction of the EU and its machinery”. Nowadays, it seems that Nicolas Sarkozy’s famous quote about a Europe with two speed gears becomes a reality. Political leaders from more prosperous countries such as Germany, Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom try to preempt any additional pressure on their state budgets, i.e to forget about solidarity, especially when they have to face internal elections.
On their turn, decision makers from poorer countries such as Romania and Hungary tend to radicalize themselves and to frame this lack of unity as Western imperialism and propaganda. Other countries, such as Greece and Cyprus, are caught in the turmoil created by their internal problems and the difficult conditions impose to them by the Troika. Consequently, hey face unprecedented austerity measures.
More recently, influential opinion leaders have invoked a more unorthodox type of solidarity in order to solve the current Euro zone crisis. More exactly, G. Soros is calling for Germany to show solidarity with the countries facing economic distress and lead the EU out of the euro-crises. In his opinion, Germany can and should be able to play a more straightforward role in the hard work of preserving the common currency. If not, Germany should exit the current euro zone and allow for the weaker countries to recover through special fiscal policies.
Jensen O. & Richardson T. Making European Space: Mobility, Power and Territorial Identity, 2004, London, p 28