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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Solidarity as a Shared Value in European Identity

Speaking at the Schloss Bellevue palace in Berlin, President Joachim Gauck used a televised speech in February 2013 to make the case for more European integration. At the time, calling for “more Europe” in terms of shifting still more governmental sovereignty from the state governments to that of the Union was not a very popular task. Further limiting the power of his message is the fact that the German presidency is largely ceremonial , unlike the office of governor in an American state. Nevertheless, Gauck was determined to put the contemporary condition of the “European project” in favorable perspective. The most striking—and even effective—aspect of his speech is his repeated references to “European citizens.” Had he used “Germans” instead, he would have subtly undercut his own message.
 
                                       President of the state of Germany in the E.U., Joachim Gauck urges "more Europe."  dailyme.com
 
Acknowledging the fiscal and structural imbalances that gave rise to the debt crisis in several E.U. states  and the problems entailed in “patching up” the problems by emergency measures, Gauck nonetheless pointed to non-economic elements of the European project that were also in crisis. “It is also a crisis of confidence in Europe as a political project. This is not just a struggle for our currency; we are struggling with an internal quandary too.” This problem is predicated on the point that the strengthening of a European identity comes out of a recognition of shared values, rather than in differentiation from other cultures outside of Europe.
Too often, Europeans artificially delimit their values to their particular state. Typically, Europeans will preface a self-referential remark with, “In my country,” only to describe a custom or value that is by no means limited to, distinctive in, one particular state. Even in saying “more Europe means a European Germany,” Gauck risked falling into this trap, at least in terms of keeping Europe as secondary. More in line with his thesis would have been the expression, more Europe means more European. More European in turn means more of a consciousness of values that European citizens (and residents) share, whether or not people in Africa, Asia, or America happen to esteem those values too. So the question facing European citizens is this: What values do you share?
From an American perspective, I notice the salience of the value of solidarity held by Europeans because it is such a recessive value in America. Ironically, World War II was perhaps the last time solidarity in terms of “we’re all in it together” was explicitly pushed and acknowledged in America. Even then, the value was more in terms of sacrificing for a common purpose rather than seeing to it that the most vulnerable among us do not fall through the cracks in terms of sustenance. In Europe, solidarity has more of a social welfare quality.
Moreover, whereas Americans tend to apply human rights only to the harm caused by tyrants abroad, Europeans tend naturally to extend to the value to covering the basic sustenance rights of one’s own fellow citizens as well. The shift needed for a stronger European identity involves becoming aware of the duty to apply the value domestically to other Europeans rather than merely to people in one’s own state, or “country.” So “European Germans” would feel solidarity with starving “European Greeks,” for example. This is the element that was largely missing from the austerity response of E.U. finance ministers to the debt crisis from 2010 to 2012. Accordingly, “more Europe” involves not only a stronger value-fueled-identity, but also more fiscal redistribution at the federal, or E.U., level. Put another way, Europeans surely have more shared values than that of austerity.

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