The principle of ‘solidarity’ was a key feature of debates during the Eurozone crisis and the migration crisis, but the way in which the term was used differed in both cases. Drawing on a new study, explains that while the concept of solidarity is often assumed to be owned by actors on the left of the political spectrum, this is not necessarily the case, particularly as different meanings of solidarity are linked to different crises.
What do the euro crisis and Europe’s migration crisis have in common? It is not only the lack of core state power at the supranational level, but the fact that both crises share a public appeal to solidarity. President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, argued in his State of the Union address in 2018 that solidarity is needed to implement a relocation scheme for registered refugees across EU member states. German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted on continuing solidarity with Greece to overcome the crisis. These two public statements are exemplary for this discursive appeal to solidarity in both crises. Additionally, research on solidarity in times of crisis has strongly increased in recent years, assessing solidarity from different perspectives.
Considering the trajectories of both crises, how can we make sense of the fact that Germany was criticised for its lack of solidarity during the euro crisis, but demanded solidarity from other EU member states in the wake of the migration crisis in 2015? What does solidarity mean in public debates in times of crisis? Moreover, who claims solidarity in these debates?
While previous research on solidarity has emphasised the distributional character of ‘institutionalised solidarity’, referring predominantly to solidarity mechanisms in national welfare states, I suggest in a recent study to look at different meanings of solidarity in public discourses. Based on a growing body of literature on solidarity, political, cultural, social, economic and monetary solidarity meanings can be distinguished, highlighting different forms of support for others. This helps to clarify which meaning of solidarity is favoured in public debates, who is claiming what kind of solidarity and whether certain meanings relate to specific times of crisis.
I analysed German newspapers between 2010 and 2015 on solidarity discourses in the euro crisis and Europe’s migration crisis and I identified four different discourse constellations. First, both solidarity discourses show a strong presence of conservative politicians. While we might have expected that green, leftist and social democratic parties would be most prominent, this phenomenon is mainly explained by the presence of conservative politicians in national governments as well as in the European Commission. Angela Merkel is particularly visible in the solidarity debates, underlining her central position as German Chancellor as well as her crucial role at the European intergovernmental level. The solidarity discourses are rather similar in their actor constellations to those identified in previous studies on European issues in the public sphere.
Second, non-conservative party actors were highly marginal in the euro crisis, but had stronger visibility in the migration crisis discourse. In Germany, the Green Party and the social democratic SPD were far more central in the public debate on solidarity in the migration crisis. These actors have highlighted the institutional deficit of the current Dublin Regulations and especially in 2015, they demanded a new solidarity mechanism at the European level to deal with the high influx of asylum seekers and migrants to Europe. This institutional insufficiency as well as the one-sided responsibility of southern European member states in dealing with migration was known among party actors and gained public attention in the media.
Third, the solidarity discourse in the migration crisis was predominantly on political solidarity and served as common ground for the public debate among party actors. The demand for an institutional reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) combined with the aim of protecting the Schengen Agreement created unique solidarity discourses that largely focused on political means to solidarity. Nonetheless, at the end of 2015, security and demarcation issues became more visible and challenged the predominant solidarity framing of the German media discourse. Then, setting up fences at national borders and the renationalisation of border control and border surveillance fundamentally questioned a solidarity solution to the migration crisis.
Finally, the solidarity discourse in the euro crisis demonstrated the presence of a non-solidarity concept in the discourse. ‘Financial solidity’ was a shared concept in the German debate. Solidarity and financial solidity were discursive linked by the principle that there should be no solidarity without financial solidity. This was shared by the dominant conservative actors and was the main claim put forward during the euro crisis. Monetary solidarity in the sense of a risk-sharing mechanism among member states was the most common meaning of solidarity in the euro crisis, but this was not as central as financial solidity. Hence, the solidarity discourse was not a counter-discourse to austerity, but was strategically linked to this debate. Actors argued that both principles were needed to overcome the crisis and guarantee the survival of the Eurozone.
What do we learn from this? On the one hand, the idea of solidarity is not ‘owned’ by leftist actors and was not necessarily a counter claim to the dominant austerity paradigm during the euro crisis. The analysis rather demonstrates that actors strategically link different concepts to justify their decisions and mobilise the public. Solidarity is not immune to this framing strategy. On the other hand, the analysis shows that different meanings of solidarity are linked to different crises. The public reference to solidarity might be shared by many actors. It is also probably uncontested that solidarity is one of the most relevant ideas in contemporary political and social issues. Hence, more (conceptual) caution might be needed. Before heeding the call to act in solidarity, we should first ask ourselves who is calling for solidarity, and for whom and on what grounds we should establish it.
For more information, see the author’s accompanying papers in and the Journal of European Public Policy
Note: This article gives the views of the author, not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy or the London School of Economics. Featured image credit: Carolina Georgatou (CC BY-ND 2.0)
About the author
Stefan Wallaschek – University of Hildesheim
Stefan Wallaschek is a Research Associate in the interdisciplinary research group SOLDISK in the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Hildesheim. His dissertation is on ‘Mapping Solidarity in Europe. Discourse Networks in the Euro Crisis and Europe’s Migration Crisis.’ He tweets @s_wallaschek.