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Whatever is necessary… will be done” - Time for a Less One-Sighted View on Solidarity in Europe in the Shades of Covid-19


Solidarity – and the claimed lack thereof - has become one of the most profound themes presently discussed at all levels in Europe in the shades of the Covid-19 crisis, among other things exposing deep divisions in Europe.




Whatever is necessary… will be done”  - Time for a Less One-Sighted View on Solidarity in Europe in the Shades of Covid-19
In contrast to the general picture the media provide, we believe that the EU has demonstrated solidarity during the current Covid-19 crisis. However, in order to understand this view, one needs to take into consideration many more complexities than normally included. In the following, we explain why the presence of solidarity within the EU is so crucial and why we believe that there is some truth in the claim by EU President, Ms. Ursula von der Leyen, that “…Europe has now become the world's beating heart of solidarity.”

Solidarity – and the claimed lack thereof - has become one of the most profound themes presently discussed at all levels in Europe in the shades of the Covid-19 crisis, among other things exposing deep divisions in Europe. The initially most affected states, Italy and Spain, have accused the much more privileged, northern nations - led by Germany and the Netherlands - of not doing enough. On a larger scale, the EU is continuously being accused for having failed in that regard. Peculiarly, the European institutions, with the European Commission as their frontrunner, keep on - again and again and in some contrast - to an almost exaggerated degree reassuring that solidarity does indeed prevail. Beyond any doubt, solidarity will thus be the invisible, yet troublesome guest during the next videoconference with the members of the European Council on Thursday 23 April 2020, not least considering that EU President, Ms. Ursula von der Leyen, has promised that whatever is necessary to support Europeans and the European economy will be done.

Law can to a large extent compensate for selfish human and state behavior, and solidarity has for a long time served both as a profound value of and a dominant aim to be pursued by the EU as expressed in Articles 2 and 3 TEU. Thus, criticism of the EU in that regard is indeed quite severe, as solidarity among the Member States has been viewed as a kind of binding glue from the very beginning, playing a fundamental role in defining the identity of the EU. The principle of sincere cooperation, as enshrined in Article 4(3) TEU, and which entails solidarity, constitutes, together with the principle of unity, the cornerstone of European integration. In consequence, solidarity is viewed as a special and important value and virtue of what Europe is about; something which is viewed as positively distinguishing it from other continents.

Yet, how to transform the general visions of solidarity into concrete action has always been the Achilles heel of the EU, and therefore it is easily an object for criticism. For instance, in recent years the EU has been perceived as appearing quite hopeless in relation to policies requiring a kind of “implementation” of the solidarity principle (such as the EU asylum policy, e.g. through an EU system of relocation of asylum seekers throughout the EU, has been particularly difficult if not impossible). In the present Covid-19 crisis, the EU has once again proven to appear as very fragile in this regard and if it fails now, Euro-scepticism would be likely to rise further, and the entire project would be severely endangered.

In a new paper we have taken a more bird’s eye view and focused on three of the most pertinent, ultimately interrelated, dimensions of the Covid-19 crisis, namely a) the presence of solidarity with regard to the health and internal market dimension, b) the economic dimension and c) the rule of law dimension. Within that framework, we analyse the various measures adopted so far by the EU as a more reasonable point of departure for an assessment of solidarity. Examples are the saving of human lives by, inter alia, endorsing the containment measures by Member States, whilst facilitating the availability of medical protective equipment across borders, the saving of economies by financial stimuli and a flexible application of EU state aid rules, and the saving of essential democratic values and rights through a balanced approach to security, health and other fundamental rights.

In the paper we conclude – inevitably at this stage only on a preliminary basis - that a lot of hope may after all be put into the EU, as it has within the prevailing limits done quite well already. The reactions by the EU were at first far too slow in becoming initiated, which had extremely tragic consequences in some of the Member States, which are likely to could have been avoided. In fact, we are all forever left with terrifying images of the times when Covid-19 arrived in Northern Italy, and of the despair and far too many deaths that followed. Later on, the reactions came little by little and often in a piecemeal manner.

Nevertheless, to us it does not seem fair to say that solidarity in the shape of action is not present at all. Some of the explanation of the inertia is to be found in the fact that Member States in previous times have not been willing to transfer the needed competences. That framework will undoubtedly eventually have to be reconsidered but would often require fundamental Treaty amendments. However, we must all learn, being as we are in a kind of a social experiment - constituting probably the largest challenge to the EU since its foundation - no one has ever experienced before, where human wisdom, responsibility and solidarity is to be so strongly called for. Further improvements are desirable, as there still is a long road ahead of us, but it did after all not begin too badly considering the frightening and almost paralyzing circumstances at the time of the outbreak of the pandemic. However, only time will show whether the steps already taken and to be taken are sufficient. Despite much being under significant change and huge challenges prevailing, we would as our final statement simply refer to the following words of Albert Camus as a request to all of us: "[W]e should go forward, groping our way through the darkness, stumbling perhaps at times, and try to do what good lay in our power.”

Ulla Neergaard

Professor of EU Law, University of Copenhagen

Sybe de Vries

Whatever is necessary… will be done”  - Time for a Less One-Sighted View on Solidarity in Europe in the Shades of Covid-19
Professor of EU Single Market Law and Fundamental Rights, University of Utrecht