Saturday 11. July 2020
#148 - April 2012


Solidarity as a principle of the European Union


This crisis goes back a long way, and if we blame ourselves for anything, it could be for not noticing it early enough and not exposing the destructive elements which have found their way into what in those days we still called our community.


During the discussion evening on 21 March in honour of Mgr Adrianus van Luyn, whose term as President of COMECE ends in March 2012, Michel Camdessus (a former Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund) presented his analysis of the causes of the economic crisis now striking Europe and what Christians are doing to help Europe survive it. Here are some of the points he raised.


When trying to understand this crisis from which Europe is struggling to emerge, we must acknowledge that at its origin it is also an ethical crisis, a crisis of its fundamental values. What we are living through now is not only a major economic and fundamental crisis, it is also a shakeup of the system of values on which Europe has been built. Two of its fundamental pillars have been surreptitiously called into question. The first of these pillars is the social market economy, which is itself founded on values that a working group chaired by Mr de Schoutheete had clarified, at your request, in March 2007: bringing nations together, peace and freedom, power and responsibility, diversity, subsidiarity, differentiation, multilateralism and tolerance, solidarity both within and outside of the Union. To this list you can add two values, implied though just as essential, namely justice and efficacy.


The second pillar that has been undermined is the principle of democracy. The huge project of building Europe could not have gone forward without the support of active and participative democracy. But neither our societies nor our governments, nor the European institutions have taken sufficient care to keep it alive. And so Europe has become increasingly a task left to technicians. They work at it the best they can, but it is irresponsible to put onto their shoulders alone the burden of addressing intractable problems without, on the one hand, any strong popular democratic support or, on the other hand, any constant dialogue between the economic and social actors, not only amongst themselves but also with our own governments.

This crisis goes back a long way, and if we blame ourselves for anything, it could be for not noticing it early enough and not exposing the destructive elements which have found their way into what in those days we still called our community. Our model has been rendered unstable, without our noticing it, by the rise of the cult of the individual and of neo-liberal utilitarianism. Our values have been chipped away.


These days we can almost measure the havoc wrought by this dumbing down, to the point of decay, of our basic values. We have to get them back again. The first one to be restored in these times of crisis for a new start is, without any doubt, solidarity.

Let me go straight to the point and state the obvious. We must maintain the definition which the Holy Father gave us in Caritas in Veritate, taking up that given by his predecessor in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. “Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone…”  I like this definition which makes such a strong connection between solidarity and the sense of responsibility, which lies at the core of being human.


This is the definition to which you are obviously referring in the highly remarkable and courageous statement that you have just written and published under the leadership of Cardinal Marx :  “A European Community of solidarity and responsibility

This document comes at exactly the right time. I would like to see it circulated as widely as possible throughout our Union, because it will contribute to the forward impetus that Europe needs.


While I am on this point, may I say just how delighted I am to see that, with perhaps just a touch of mischief and no particular explanation, you have given your document the title “A European Community of solidarity and responsibility”. Community! Yes, what a lovely word, and so welcome! I’ve no idea what prompted the conspiracy of uninspired experts to sweep this word out of the door during the negotiations in Maastricht just to replace it with the more neutral term “Union”, meanwhile leaving by the wayside this aspiration to a communion which we should be pursuing now more than ever.  But, even if we are governed by a treaty of Union, in practical life it’s still a Community spirit that we should be recreating between ourselves.


Your text makes reference, as indeed it should, to two dimensions of solidarity “ad intra” and “ad extra”. Both are essential, but in the present situation you have concentrated mostly on its internal aspects. Allow me to draw your attention to a few points which particularly made me think. First of all, I think that the passages relating to the strengthening of the social dimension of the Union especially deserve to be mulled over in these days when the negotiations of the European Council, in emergency response mode, seem to be neglecting these aspects. How, for example, can we refrain from underlining the strength and the relevance of your ninth paragraph which talks about burden-sharing and debt-reduction? In your arguments for the sharing of individual responsibilities, you even call for an extraordinary taxation of banks and other financial institutions. In putting forward this proposal, I’m sure you really don’t want to listen to any words of caution from a former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, but I’m still going to say them.


Take, for example, your sixth paragraph, where you refer to the relationship between the social objectives of the Union and competition, since it is set out in the Lisbon Treaty that the Union is working towards the implementation of “a highly competitive social market economy”. But you have added that “the emphasis should be on the ‘social’ rather than the ‘highly competitive’ dimension” because the first is a means and the second is a goal. I’m glad you said that. This debate on competition and social objectives leads me to refer to another extremely topical relationship: for the countries that are victims of the crisis of indebtedness, the relationship between the essential efforts devoted to adjustment and the no less essential support of other EU Member States.  Clearly, keeping the efforts on both sides in due proportion is giving rise to a debate, a debate that is difficult and at times acrimonious. It is now threatening to create a split in the EU. When confronted with these two factors in current work programmes, our countries react according to the promptings of their culture, their history and the facts of their own situations. Every new case brings with it the risk of deepening even further the gulf between them. It seems to me that, as you are also facing this situation, your message will be invaluable. It could help people on all sides to understand each other, to acknowledge that the responsibility for the crisis of indebtedness does not lie only with the country in question, that getting out of it will inevitably involve the efforts of everybody, and that is why each person, while remaining open-minded, must move much further than at the present time towards the viewpoints of the other side. Few institutions are better placed than yours to help people realise this and to persuade them to accept, in the present moment, the sacrifices that are necessary and the strain, albeit essential, of solidarity. We are now being tested, the toughest test since the beginning of the Community.  As has happened many times in the past, the Community will, through this effort of mutual understanding, manage to find a new impetus. (…)


Faced with the tremendous changes in the world today, when we ponder over the demands of solidarity for our era, all of us European Christians come upon a well-known truth: every major human step forward – and here I think we can still include the building of Europe –requires in exchange an accompanying spiritual step forward. Obviously, logic itself, simple human wisdom is enough to suggest the changes which I have just mentioned. For us, they will also go through a conversion in the direction that the Holy Spirit himself will show us, so that this Europe may recover both her breath and her confidence; so that, faithful to her promise, she may gain ground in its policies of sharing; so that she may be the sponsor of a “new culture of solidarity” and thus, after so many debates on her Christian identity, she may be effectively recognised as being Christian, despite all those constitutional declarations, in such a way that, just like the Risen Christ at Emmaus, she will share out the bread at home and with all men. Bread. Our daily bread, for every man.



Michel Camdessus

Former Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Honorary President of the Semaines Sociales de France


Translated from the original text in French


Download the full speech in PDF format from here

Teilen |

Published in English, French, German
COMECE, 19 square de Meeûs, B-1050 Brussels
Tel: +32/2/235 05 10

Editors-in-Chief: Martin Maier SJ

Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.