Most attention on the Greek crisis has focused on economics. What are the consequences of the Greek default on their debt? Why should Germans pay for the Greeks? Will Greece leave the Eurozone? What will happen to Greece if the drachma is re-issued? Behind these questions is the obvious political question about Europe: What will be the consequences for the European Union if Greece leaves?
These are legitimate questions. But what about solidarity? Solidarity among the European countries with their Greek co-Unionists and solidarity from the international financial institutions for the situation of those suffering from unemployment and reduced pensions. Has the notion of solidarity gone out of fashion as a left-wing ideal from some bygone era?
If the European Union is truly a union, then there should be solidarity among its members. Just as the different Swiss cantons contribute to the federal government in their own way, each country within the European Union should make contributions according to its capacities. Individuals pay taxes to their governments according to their incomes; cantons do the same to their government; countries should do the same to the Union.
All of the above assumes that the European Union is more than just an economic zone. It assumes that there is a political union based on common values, norms, rules, etc. It assumes that there is a sense of solidarity among the members. Is this so? This crisis clearly shows that there is a serious lack of belonging on the part of the members, a serious lack of solidarity and commonality.
Is this surprising? There are many unions/partnerships being formed around the world. President Obama’s proposal for a Trans-Pacific Partnership is one example. The new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) backed by China is another example. These unions/partnerships are economic and financial institutions established by and large to foster economic development. There is a level of cooperation among the members, 57 countries have already signed on to the AIIB. Members of these financial/economic institutions are “thin” members. That is, they sign agreements to cooperate when it is in their interests. Privileges are prioritized, responsibilities are minimized.
The European Union was supposed to be deeper than a mere economic union or partnership. Economic commonalities, such as a common currency, were supposed to lead to a deeper level of cooperation such as a common foreign and security policy.
There is a difference between thin and thick levels of cooperation. Solidarity is not only a trite expression associated with left politics, it is a reflection of a thick relationship that includes not only privileges, but also obligations to others. In a world of selfies, is this still possible?
Among all the headlines surrounding the Greek crisis, it would be refreshing to hear calls for solidarity among the members of the European Union. Each country seems to be looking out for itself, as in much of current international relations. Self-interest is the name of the game.
It would be helpful to go back to the deeper meaning of union instead of mere economics. The Civil War in the United States was not only fought over the issue of slavery. For President Lincoln, the preservation of the union was the priority. As he said in an open letter to publisher Horace Greeley: “I would save the Union. … If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it. … What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save this Union…”
Should Greece have been allowed to enter the EU in the first place? Does the fault for the current situation lie with the lenders as well as the borrower? Again, these are legitimate questions. But the underlying issue remains the solidarity of the EU and the thin or thick relationship among its members.