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How Strong is European Solidarity?

Jürgen Gerhards, Holger Lengfeld, Zsófia S. Ignácz, Florian K. Kley & Maximilian Priem

Berlin Studies on the Sociology of Europe (BSSE) No. 37 | February 2018 | Download as pdf


In recent years, a series of crises have hit the European Union (i.e., the Eurozone crisis, the sovereign debt crises, the Great Recession, the refugee crisis, Brexit). Such precarious times have challenged solidarity both between European citizens, as well as between the Member States of the EU. The current paper investigates the degree of European solidarity in the European Union in the light of these developments.

The paper describes the preliminary findings of a recent research project conducted on European solidarity. We surveyed citizens of 13 Members States of the EU about their disposition toward (European) solidarity. An upcoming book will offer an elabo-rate theoretical framework about the existence of European solidarity. Additionally, this book will also presents detailed results from the project and indepth discussion of the findings. However, we decided to publish some of the descriptive results beforehand in the form of this report as the major findings of our study have high public and political relevance. The development of recent crises has been rather fastpaced, and is in contrast with the long wait that comes with the publication of academic texts. So, the latter process hinders the most important information to reach the public and policy makers as soon as possible and this report wishes to remedy it slightly.

In Chapter 1, we will elaborate on the conceptual framework of our study. By Euro-pean solidarity, we understand a form of solidarity expanded beyond one’s own na-tion state; recipients of solidarity are other EU countries, or citizens living in another EU country. In the first part of Chapter 1, we systematically distinguish between four different domains of European solidarity: (1) Fiscal solidarity, defined as citizens’ willingness to support indebted European countries financially. (2) Welfare state solidarity, defined as citizens’ strong agreement to support those in need – unemployed, sick, and the elderly – regardless of where they live in the EU, and to reduce inequality between rich and poor people in Europe. (3) Territorial solidarity, the willingness to reduce inequality between poor and rich EU countries. (4) Finally, the refugee crisis has raised the question of (4.1) external solidarity, defined as the support for the EU to grant asylum to refugees coming from outside of EU, and (4.2) internal solidarity, defined as a strong agreement with how Member States should share the burden of distributing refugees among themselves. In the second part of Chapter 1, we define different criteria for determining the strength of European solidarity.

In Chapters 2 to 5, we will apply the explicated criteria for the existence of European solidarity to each of the four domains of solidarity. By doing so, we can determine the strength of European solidarity in each domain of solidarity. As this report aims at giving a first overview of some of our results, we will apply two of the four theoreti-cally developed criteria of European solidarity to the four domains only and present the corresponding descriptive results.

Overall, our analyses reveal some unanticipated findings. Europeans altogether display a notably higher level of solidarity with citizens of other EU countries and EU states than many politicians and social scientists have so far presumed. This especially applies to the support of people in need (welfare state solidarity) and the reduction of wealth inequalities between rich and poor European countries (territorial solidarity), but also to the domain of fiscal solidarity. On top of this, European solidarity turns out to be more established than the global one.

However, this optimistic view is not valid for the domain of solidarity with refugees. Whilst citizens of western and southern European countries support both, the ac-ceptance of refugees and the fair distribution of the incurring costs and burdens be-tween European countries, the majority of people in eastern European countries do not share this point of view.

Soziologie - Euiropäische Gesellschaften