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A New Test for EU Solidarity

When the 13 American colonies signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Benjamin Franklin famously said that, “We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” With the fallout from the Ukraine war threatening Europe’s cohesion, Franklin’s warning has gained new and acute relevance.

PARIS – Shared interests may sustain alliances in peacetime. But alliances that are capable of winning wars and confronting crises require something more: a willingness to compromise one’s immediate well-being and to endure sacrifices. This is called solidarity, and it is one of the principles upon which the European Union is based.

Solidarity in Europe had long been a matter for speeches. But then the 2010 euro crisis put it to the test, when Greece, Ireland, and Portugal lost access to capital markets and were forced to seek financial assistance. Many in Northern Europe were shocked: To allow those states that had ignored the single currency’s rules to rely on their partners’ helping hand was simply an invitation to flout the rules repeatedly. The battle lasted for five years, with many twists and turns, and entailed much unnecessary economic hardship, until it ended in 2015 with the decision to keep Greece inside the euro.

That lesson had not been forgotten when the COVID-19 pandemic shock hit Europe in 2020. The European Central Bank was quick to launch a dedicated asset-purchase program, and the EU itself devised two pathbreaking initiatives in a matter of months. It developed a joint plan to purchase and distribute vaccines, so that wealthier member states could not outbid poorer ones, and it established the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), through which grants and loans to member states are being financed by EU borrowing. These were rightly hailed as European solidarity in action.

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