From June 14th to June 16th, the Amsterdam Centre for Contemporary European Studies (ACCESS EUROPE) organised an international conference on “Solidarity and European integration”. In his contribution to the panel “European solidarity and justice: normative issues”, Andrea Sangiovanni presented his dispositional analysis of the concept “solidarity”. He defines solidarity as a (complex) disposition to sacrifice one’s own self-interest (narrowly understood) for the good of others. In order to distinguish solidarity from utilitarian altruism, love, enlightened self-interest, and fairness, he further specifies it as being a disposition to sacrifice that is impersonal, narrow, and person-directed. It is a disposition to sacrifice one’s own self-interest for the sake of overcoming an adversity faced by other member states or EU citizens. Such a dispositional analysis is, I believe, much more promising than, for instance, an analysis of solidarity as a mental state. It enables us to reach a better understanding of the conditions that are most conducive to the development of solidarity and the factors that hinder it. In this post, I develop some thoughts on how to address this issue in the European context.Understood as a disposition, solidarity is acquired and revealed through practice. Current EU politics reveal rather little solidarity. If we conceive of the financial and the refugee crises as “solidarity tests”, the EU receives a clear “fail”. It was only when high numbers of refugees arrived at its own borders that Germany stopped blocking attempts to agree on a fair division of refugees between member states and began to plead for such a division itself – without success. All attempts in this direction failed and Greece and Italy are now once more abandoned to their fate. Although this is in line with the Dublin II Regulation, it certainly manifests a lack of solidarity on the part of many member states and EU citizens. Why are so many governments and citizens not disposed to act in solidarity towards the Italian and the Greek? As far as governments are concerned, the answer is probably that they believe that acting in solidarity would decrease their chances of being re-elected. If this is true, we ought to focus on citizens and ask what needs to be done so that they develop the relevant disposition in a sufficiently strong form.

The acquisition of a disposition such as “transnational solidarity” (solidarity between EU citizens, as opposed to national solidarity and member state solidarity) can be facilitated through a certain institutional environment. Relevant institutions include citizenship regimes, tax regimes, rights to free movement, and welfare arrangements such as pension systems and unemployment benefits, amongst others. Education is important, too. That solidarity is acquired through practice implies that it cannot be the result of merely teaching a set of principles, or facts. Here solidarity can be compared to a skill. Becoming a good chess player, for instance, requires practising chess. Of course we ought to teach young Europeans about the workings of EU institutions. Too many people are not aware of the mutual production of collective goods that EU member states are engaged in, and of the demands of solidarity to which this gives rise. But merely knowing all this is not enough for being disposed to act in solidarity towards one another. What else is required? They need to exercise the rights and duties connected with European citizenship, to be active European citizens. Therefore, education ought to involve encouraging them to make use of the right to free movement, vote in European elections, participate in European initiatives, etc., and facilitating this by organising exchange programs, creating suitable platforms and so forth. Of course there already are these kinds of initiative, but not on a large enough scale.

But wait a minute: can a sufficient level of solidarity actually be reached within the current framework, or do we have to re-create the EU in a different form? According to Ulrike Guérot, Founder and Director of the European Democracy Lab at the European School of Governance in Berlin and author of the book “Warum Europa eine Republik werden muss! Eine politische Utopie” (Why Europe Needs to Become a Republic. A Political Utopia), we are currently witnessing the EU falling apart, and ought to respond to this by creating a European republic. Guérot criticises that the current EU is not a union of citizens, but plays citizens off against one another via national social and economic policies. Thus, it is not a ground on which solidarity can thrive and prosper. Does transnational solidarity require radical institutional changes, such as the creation of a unified tax regime? Are all attempts to increase European solidarity by educational means in vain because the current institutional framework frustrates these efforts?

I am an Assistant Professor in Philosophy at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. Previously I have held research and teaching positions at the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation in Venice, Maastricht University, Utrecht University and Eindhoven University of Technology. I hold a PhD from the European University Institute in Florence. My husband and I live in Baarn, a village in the province of Utrecht, together with our two daughters Philine and Romy.