This article presents the summary of a symposium held at the Centre for Transnational Legal Studies in London on April 1, 2016. The event, hosted by Francesco Costamagna of the University of Turin, revolved around the theme of solidarity in the European Union, and featured talks by Kalypso Nicolaïdis (University of Oxford), Maurizio Ferrera (University of Milan), Andrea Sangiovanni (King’s College London), and Francesca Strumia (University of Sheffield). The symposium tackled the idea of solidarity particularly in relation to issues at the centre of today’s political debate, such as the question of free movement within the European Union and the notion of European citizenship.
The challenges of solidarity in the EU
The notion of solidarity is often used as a catch-all term in current EU debates, and invoked indifferently with regard to, for instance, helping member states in financial distress or dealing with the refugee crisis (as, for instance, in Jean-Claude Junker’s 2015 State of the Union address). In sum, while widely used—and sometimes abused—the notion of solidarity has no precise meaning in EU politics. It may be generally understood as a “positive attitude” towards those (whether individuals or member states) that are currently worse off, based and justified on a jointly held, though undefined, set of moral values.
While nation states have historically provided frameworks for solidarity between national citizens through welfare state institutions, the question of the role of solidarity among EU members remains open, both normatively and practically.
The notion of solidarity examined in the symposium is, however, more specific: it refers to the way in which the members of a political community share the burdens and benefits of social cooperation. In the EU setting, then, the idea of solidarity is intertwined with the question of boundaries, and with the definition of the type of relations and actions in which different member states should be involved. While nation states have historically provided frameworks for solidarity between national citizens through welfare state institutions, the question of the role of solidarity among EU members remains open, both normatively and practically.
In addition, the realization of the EU principle of the free movement, as well as the institutionalization of the rights of European citizenship have posed new challenges for the implementation of solidarity at the national level. Whereas the free circulation of EU citizens among different member states has led to the emergence of a form of transnational solidarity, whereby foreign nationals can access social benefits in the host country, host country nationals have felt increasingly threatened by the risk that the extension of social rights to newcomers may jeopardize their own access to the same benefits.
The widespread perception of a trade-off between transnational and national solidarity has in some cases achieved the status of a new type of political conflict. National citizens perceive the idea that “outsiders” have access to social systems they help fund and sustain as unfair, and are accordingly susceptible to the lure of movements and parties critical of European integration and in same cases theorizing a loosening or a even dismantling of Union ties—as in the case of Brexit. The key questions, therefore, are whether and how it is possible to reconcile different forms of solidarity in the EU framework, in particular by overcoming the perceived incompatibility between national, transnational and international solidarity.
Solidarity in a demoi-cratic system
Kalypso Nicolaïdis locates solidarity within an understanding of the European Union as a “demoi-cracy”. The latter is, in her view, the normative ideal to which the EU should aspire. Demoi-cracy is able to reconcile the question of (domestic) democracy with that of justice at the EU level. Demoi-cracy represents a third way between the lack of integration and the perspective of a federal state: it allows for the establishment of a union of peoples (demoi) sharing power (kratos) through transnational decisions.
Solidarity in this setting should be based on an understanding of the EU as a voluntary association, since solidarity cannot be obtained nor produced through obligation. Solidarity, Nicolaïdis argues, “speaks to motives” for actions, and is not about the action in itself. Frameworks for solidarity at the transnational level should be based on agreements or pacts sustained by choice rather than coercion. Solidarity should not, accordingly, be prescribed by supranational institutions, nor, however, should it be left entirely to the contingent choices of benevolent member states. It should instead be embedded in an un-derstanding of reciprocity that shapes transnational agreement based on the ideal of demoi-cracy.
The unsustainable decoupling of market and solidarity
Maurizio Ferrera reminds us that solidarity at the national level is closely connected with the notion of boundaries. The sense of community and the feeling of being “bound” together, in contemporary European history, emerged quite distinctively in relation to territorial closure and nation-building (the “bounding-bonding” nexus). At the national level, the sharing of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation, institutionalized through the welfare state, is instrumental for social stability and cooperation. Accordingly, the organized and institutionalized social “sharing” is the key political good produced by nation states through welfare institutions.
Instead, the free movement of people across national boundaries has been accompanied only by an attribution of social rights which exists only parasitically upon national welfare systems.
At the supranational level, however, the production of similar social goods has not been institutionalized. The supranational level has promoted the free movement of citizens but has not institutionalized solidarity, understood as the creation of “duties of sharing”. Instead, the free movement of people across national boundaries has been accompanied only by an attribution of social rights which exists only parasitically upon national welfare systems.
In such a situation, European integration may actually end up endangering member states’ domestic political and social equilibria. Accordingly, Ferrera argues, member states should aim for the creation of a “European Social Union”, which would ensure the political sustainability of integration within member states, and mark an im-portant further step towards the establishment of a real political union in the continent.
Solidarity as a “telic good”
Andrea Sangiovanni’s approach to the question of solidarity starts from an analysis of the legitimacy bases of the EU. He argues that input and output conceptions of legitimacy are not sufficient to fully account for the legitimacy of a non-coercive institution like the Union. There is something more that keeps member states together in this project. This something concerns the presence of a background of shared values, shaping the belief that member states are jointly pursuing the “right ends”. Sangiovanni accordingly proposes for the European Union an account of political legitimacy that he labels “telic legitimacy”. In his view, solidarity, as one of the founding principles of the European project, is one of the Union’s telic goods. More precisely, solidarity is defined as a complex set of attitudes oriented towards some kind of collective action, aimed at overcoming some shared adversity. Solidarity requires member states to share their fate, whereas it does not require sharing an identity nor some form of humanitarianism. It is rather based on reciprocity in the attempt to help each other to overcome shared adversities. In this sense, integration should aim at sharing not only benefits, but also risks.
Using citizenship for solidarity?
Adopting a narrower focus, Francesca Strumia discusses the issue of European citizenship in relation to free movement. Her question, more precisely, is: Can European citizenship serve as a vehicle for transnational solidarity? The absence of a common welfare system means that the EU has not yet created an institutionalized framework for a European Social Citizenship. The financial burdens accompanying the free movement of EU citizens rest on the shoulders of the host countries, in which welfare-seeking migrants are often perceived as a threat for the national welfare system.
On the one hand, then, free movement is denied to non-self-sufficient EU citizens. On the other, EU citizenship and free movement is “sold” to wealthy non-EU citizens. Yet both practices share the same final objective, namely protecting national welfare systems.
When looking at certain member states (such as Cyprus and Malta), however, a different story about EU citizenship emerges. These countries have recently introduced immigration policies aiming at attracting high-net-worth individuals who can invest in the host country, offering them residence permits or even citizenship—and, ipso facto, EU citizenship—in return. On the one hand, then, free movement is denied to non-self-sufficient EU citizens. On the other, EU citizenship and free movement is “sold” to wealthy non-EU citizens. Yet both practices share the same final objective, namely protecting national welfare systems.
The question that Strumia raises at this point is whether the commodification of EU citizenship emerging from these practices—which, prima facie offends the ideal of transnational solidarity—could actually be put at the service of transnational solidarity. This might be achieved, for instance, by taxing, at the EU level, the profits coming from selling EU citizenship, and use the funds to support burdened national welfare systems. This may constitute a pragmatic way to protect the financial solidarity that free movement entails, hence helping the full materialization of such principle.
Solidarity between benevolence and duty
All the symposium participants, with the notable exception of Kalypso Nicolaïdis, seem to agree that transnational solidarity should be embedded in an inclusive and solid framework for action defined at the EU level. While Nicolaïdis depicts solidarity as an outcome of voluntary relations among countries maintaining a balance between altruism and self-interest—a system which can be seen as emerging in the Union—the remaining other participants describe solidarity as a primary goal of European integration. In their view, transnational solidarity should no longer be understood as a sympathetic or benevolent attitude between member states and among their nationals, but it should be seen as an unquestionable telos—as theorized by Sangiovanni—or, as Ferrera indicates, as a key political good that the EU is ready to accomplish.
Solidarity should be understood as a proper “vocation” of the EU, institutionalized through a clear set of enforceable rules and appropriately funded by the Union by means of ad hoc financial resources. What emerges from this line of reasoning is that transnational solidarity is not a voluntaristic act between better-off and worse-off member states or citizens. Rather, it should be one of the underlying ideals and primary functions of the EU. Its institutionalization through realistic and sustainable systems for burden and benefit sharing is therefore to be understood as a needed step towards a more stable and closer union.
Photo Credits CC: Niharb
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