Internal Policies and EU Institutions

"The Principle of Solidarity in the EU: Challenges and Opportunities" College of Europe

Bruges -
Thursday 10/11/2011

Dear Rector Demaret, Dear Professor Monar,

Dear Professors, Dear Students, Dear Colleagues,

It is a great honour for me to be here today. As usual, the College of Europe organises conferences on the most important topics which the European Union faces. Today the issue of Solidarity, and its place in the EU, is one of those topics.

At the beginning I have a personal reflection. Solidarity - for me it's the greatest value of special importance.

I experienced it in my country. Solidarity is not only the name of a trade union but it is also a sort of historic experience of the individual. Let me explain to you what it meant for million of my compatriots - it is a will of acting together in order to defend certain values, businesses or principles. The will which is above the individual character, it creates communities beyond divisions of: class, nationality and even above particular beliefs. Solidarity is a kind of a special connection between people who unite and mobilize to rescue something very important: a community and its good. Both Poland and Europe have survived crises, poverty, oppression and wars. They survived not because of a robust economy or wealth but because of solidarity built on faith in common good. A belief that it is worth to be protected.

Dear Friends,

"Solidarity" as an idea has not always existed in a direct form in our European civilization. Aristotle called it "friendship" - for pleasure, for interest, for higher purposes. Many centuries later during the French revolution it was "brotherhood/fraternity". Similar to the Aristotelian concept of friendship for higher purposes. As a political concept it came into force in Western Europe with, for example, the notion of structural funds and regional policy as a way to compensate the spreading of the internal market to Spain, Portugal and Greece. In Eastern Europe it became the idea that allowed civil society to break free from totalitarian regimes.

But both in the West and in the East it is the same idea - a notion of equality, justice, and that each person, region, country, can achieve their full potential.

Today, we see what I would call this "spirit of solidarity" in all of our common policies. Whether they are regional, agricultural, trade and even foreign policies. We see it in the negotiations on the future Multiannual Financial Framework, and we see it today when we are confronted with the euro-zone crisis. What is the proposed EFSF except an instrument of European solidarity?

This is why I have always argued for the community method because it is the best tool to implement this value of solidarity.

In less than a month we will celebrate the second anniversary of the Lisbon Treaty. This is the Treaty that actually strengthened the community method. Let us remember that this treaty was desired not only by the Parliament I represent, which gained new competences, but also by the national parliaments of all 27 member states. But first and foremost it was desired by the governments of Member States. Many of the leaders are the same people then and now.

If yesterday we said a clear "yes" for the community method we can not turn it into a "yes but" only two years later and expect to be understood by our citizens. Even though the world has changed because of this financial crisis, for the EU it only means that the Community Method is even more necessary.

The proposed intergovernmental solutions have proven to be only partial solutions. Member States acted only on their own behalf and not as a community. This means that we moved at the rate of the slowest member state, always applying the breaks while the financial markets expected us to put on the gas. Markets react in minutes, days, and weeks, we unfortunately reacted in months.

If this was a train, it would move at the speed of the slowest wagon. A common approach has the advantage of not just giving partial solutions but actually giving direction to this train. This is why the European Parliament has argued that the financial mechanisms we are creating are put into the Community Method as soon as possible.

We need direction and the markets and our citizens need to be reassured. I am glad that Commissioner Ollie Rehn has promised to me yesterday that the next package of legislative proposals on economic governance due in two weeks time will be using the Community Method. I believe that solidarity can best be implemented at the EU level by the European institutions.

Dear Colleagues,

The European Union stands at a crossroads. Our crisis is not just a financial one. It is also a crisis of trust. In some ways this is natural. Dramatic situations create fear and problems become harder to manage. Especially that our European institutions and our national governments were so concentrated on putting out fires, that we did not have time to explain why and what is actually burning.

The effect of this is that many of our citizens feel that the EU is not working. At least not working effectively. That the EU is part of the problem and not part of the solution, but the opposite is indeed true.

The problem is that we have not explained to our citizens that the glue that keeps the Union together is actually the idea of "solidarity". Solidarity between our regions, between countries but, also internally between generations. Let me give you but one example, our generation is not showing solidarity with the generation of students sitting in this room. By creating deficits that you, the younger generation will have to pay back.

It is our task as politicians, journalists, academics to explain to our citizens that the reforms we are introducing, the restructuring of economies we are demanding, is the only way to keep the European Union existing as it does today. And our responsibility is to tell our citizens that the EU is the value added our societies need to be successful and prosperous in the 21st century.

But turning back to the issue of a "lack of trust", let me underline that a lack of trust is caused by a crisis of values. Today's crisis is not only an economic crisis, but also - and above all - a crisis of values. It sound's banal, like a slogan, but let us take this seriously.

Some argue that the economy and all market activity is primarily a moral project, because it requires faith in the reliability of another human being. Others note that the economy rests on cultural institutions, because the agreements that are being made by people, who don't know each other, need trust, loyalty and responsibility. Max Weber tells us that if the economy is a game that requires some strict rules; not only economic, but legal, moral, ethical, and even formal. Because otherwise it will change into a jungle, the absolute competition, entertainment or the criminal activity in which everyone (including criminals) will lose. So that is so important that we need to rebuild the value of trust.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The European Union is based on the four freedoms of movement - of people, goods, services and capital. But perhaps there is an umbrella principle which underlines each one of these freedoms - the idea of solidarity. I agree with the basic premise behind this conference - that Solidarity is an almost constitutional principle that the EU is based upon.

As we start a discussion about a possible reform of the Lisbon Treaty, which incidentally mentions the word solidarity 19 times, we should reflect on what solidarity actually means. I believe we should not leave the idea of solidarity in the shadows of each policy but, actually take it and make it a core value of the EU.

In the 1980s, in Poland, our slogan was there is no freedom without solidarity. Today we can say there is no EU without solidarity. One final remark. To face the current crisis and finding ways of fighting it, apart from encouraging solidarity, there is one more value worth mentioning: "common sense".

In our history, from Saint Thomas Aquinas to contemporary philosophers, "common sense" was valued as both a political and an economic value.

"A man of common sense is someone", according to St. Thomas "who behaves in the present in such a way that relying on experiences from the past he will not be ashamed of them in the future". St. Thomas's advice is the minimum that we should put into our present actions. So little and so much at the same time.

Europe is our past, present and future and solidarity is a measure to join all these parts together in one economic and politically strong common good.

Thank you.


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