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The Warsaw Voice » Business » October 14, 2009
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Different Faces of European Solidarity
October 14, 2009   
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Janusz Lewandowski, Polish economist and politician, Euro deputy, former chairman of European Parliament Committee on Budgets, talks to Andrzej Jonas and Andrzej Ratajczyk.


The need to build or enhance European solidarity has recently been a popular topic in EU politics. What do you think European solidarity means these days? Is it the same idea which once guided the founding fathers of a united Europe?
The notion of European solidarity has many meanings. But one should not associate it with the origins of the European Union. The idea of a united Europe was first and foremost a lesson learned from the history of a continent that witnessed two world wars and two bloody ideologies, Nazism and communism, which later spread across the world.

But at its inception, the European Union had an element of international solidarity, an idea that we remember today when we talk about energy solidarity. The European Coal and Steel Community was set up in 1951 under a treaty that contained detailed provisions on security and mutual assurances regarding coal supply. This was due to the sad experience of the postwar generation of Europeans who associated security with food self-sufficiency and uninterrupted supplies of energy, or coal to be exact.

Those fears also led to the emergence of the common agricultural policy, which however is not based on solidarity. Just the contrary, it is selfish towards Third World countries. The common agricultural policy serves to ensure food self-sufficiency for Europe, but this is done at the expense of countries whose economies depend on food exports. Energy security in turn is no longer associated with coal but with natural gas and oil.

Since the mid-1980s the most important sign of European solidarity has been the transfer of funds from richer to poorer countries under the regional, or cohesion, policy. The policy emerged when Ireland, Greece and the Iberian countries joined the rich nations' club. Structural funds were added to the Community budget, which was dominated by spending on agriculture.

n Wouldn't you say that this solidarity was not driven by moral or ideological principles, but by an understanding of history and the reasons behind conflicts.

That is right. As I said, the European community had its roots in the understanding of the sources of conflicts on the continent where the two world wars had begun. In the financial context, the solidarity policy was a kind of bribe for the countries which could lose out on a free market because of their underdevelopment. This philosophy was similar to the one behind the Marshall Plan-let us invest in the ruined Europe so that it achieves a larger consumption capacity, a stronger purchasing power and smaller potential for class and national conflicts.

Interestingly, the solidarity policy appeared in the 1980s, despite the fact that internal transfers, for example those between the rich regions in the north and poor regions in the south of Italy and between rich and poor German regions, had not produced the desired results, which means they failed to diminish regional disparities. In some cases, the gaps between regions had even widened.

Your are speaking about solidarity in the economic context. But signs of European solidarity can also be found in foreign policy. Was not Poland relying on European solidarity when it sought support from Brussels in its recent dispute with Russia after that country had blocked Polish meat exports?
This strategy shows that conclusions have been drawn from the failures suffered in the years 2005-2007 when Poland fought with Russia single-handedly and at the same turned its back on its Western neighbors. We are now learning how to achieve national goals under the EU banner. Everyone knows that the chances of successfully solving a bilateral conflict increase if the EU becomes involved.

Does this mean that the European Union and similar organizations offer more benefits to small and medium-sized countries than to big ones, which are able to take care of their interests on their own?
Not quite so because at a time of globalization former European powers have become smaller. If they do not want to dwell on the memory of their former glory, they have to look for a new way of keeping their position in the world-through a community of 27 nations. On the other hand, by their very nature, EU institutions, including the European Parliament, offer many benefits to small and medium-sized countries.

In Poland, European solidarity is largely understood as energy solidarity, or a policy that is supposed to ensure stable energy supplies across the continent. What has the EU managed to do in this respect?
As regards energy solidarity, which is expected to be a priority of the Polish presidency of the EU, some success-if only in the verbal sphere-has already been achieved. After the unpleasant experience of the gas conflict between Russia and Ukraine, a conflict that has affected EU gas consumers, no politician in Europe will dare to deny the need of energy solidarity and security. We know what kind of legal and technical solutions are needed to make sure that solidarity is not merely a meaningless slogan. This is what we lacked in the winter when for technical reasons assistance could not be provided to those EU regions that are wholly dependent on Russian gas supplies after their households had suffered from gas disruptions.

Some new legislative proposals are very promising. But it is more difficult to eradicate the habit of bilateral talks with Gazprom, as exemplified by the Baltic gas pipeline, and the financial ties of Italian and French companies, something that damages European solidarity.

There is yet another dimension of European solidarity-solidarity between generations.
The problem is serious, especially as demographic forecasts for Europe are disastrous, both in terms of problems caused by population aging and the influx of immigrants with different cultures and religions.

It is widely believed that Europe will be unable to maintain its existing old-age pension model, which is based on the assumption that the working population provides for the retired. Nothing has been done yet to change this state of affairs because all the plans and attempts to restructure European pension systems have been tentative and usually made too late to meet the needs and demographic challenges. There is no intergenerational solidarity in this respect-neither at the EU nor national levels.

At present, measures being taken to counteract climate change are the only sign of intergenerational solidarity in Europe. Although many experts and politicians believe that the fear of global warming is somewhat exaggerated, it would be a sign of generational solidarity if the countries which will be attending the Copenhagen climate change conference agreed on a common global, not only European, front. This would show that they care for what happens to future generations.
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