EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

“Europe will be made through crises and it will be the sum of the solutions brought to these crises” wrote Jean Monnet in his Memoirs (1976). Robert Schuman, another founding father of the European Community, also believed that Europe could only be built through “concrete achievements, creating first of all a de facto solidarity”.[1] Indeed, the Union was built on these “concrete achievements” that materialized as the answers to the crises the Community faced. For instance, the subprime crisis has prompted the member states to strengthen such cooperation: they set up the European fund in 2010 and adopted the banking pact in 2012.

Nonetheless, one may doubt that the “politics of event”[2] adopted by the Union has created the exact “de facto solidarity” imagined by Monnet and Schuman. Indeed, the recent exhibitions of lack of cohesiveness and unity between European member states question the Monnet-Schuman method of European integration: are de facto solidarities sufficient to secure the unity of the EU?

The pandemic unveils shortcomings of the Monnet-Schuman approach to European construction

Like the crises that preceded it, the pandemic has activated new levers of European solidarity—the de facto solidarities mentioned by R. Schuman. Firstly, last July the member states approved the €750 billion economic recovery plan proposed by the European Commission. The partial mutualisation of debts it entails might be the “Hamiltonian moment” of the Union, as it places the European project on an unprecedented federalist path. European federalism may therefore find its future foundations in the “concrete achievements” resulting from the pandemic. Furthermore, the Union is proving to be innovative, and adapts to the new challenges the pandemic poses. For instance, it has fostered the development of the Digital Green Certificate, a vaccinal passport that will allow EU citizens to travel more freely in the Union while vaccinations roll out. These recent initiatives could indicate that the Union is indeed built through crises, and that the ongoing health crisis will not change this trend. However, the last months were also characterized by a lack of solidarity between the member states. Although the EU continues to make progress on important projects that signal the strengthening of community ties, this pragmatic solidarity cannot compensate for the lack of European unity.

It is frequently argued that the lack of European cohesion stems from the illiberal drift of Hungary and Poland. Nonetheless, without denying their undermining of the European values, it must be recognized that the dearth of unity in the EU is a responsibility of the European community as a whole. Indeed, despite the aforementioned achievements, the paucity of cooperation showcased by EU members during the COVID-19 pandemic is appalling. As the MEP Sylvie Guillaume alluded, at the first opportunity the member-states opted to disregard the Community and acted solely on their national interests. At the very beginning of the crisis, European states have embarked on the race for protective equipment with no thought for their neighbors. Afterwards, a few states—notably France and Germany—discreetly struck deals with vaccine producers in parallel to the European Commission’s resolution to secure vaccines.

The frequent appeal to solidarity and unity in the European political discourse does not correspond to the reality of the commitment to solidarity in the crises that the EU is experiencing, be it the migrant crisis or the pandemic.[3]

European unity cannot solely be sustained by de facto solidarity

If pragmatism has prompted member states to cooperate on the Commission’s projects, the fact that they sometimes favor their national interests over the ones of the community short-circuits the implementation of such initiatives. Thus, de facto solidarity is threatened to be sabotaged from within.

First of all, the Digital Green Certificate, supposed to allow European citizens to travel more easily than it has been so far, is facing deep difficulties due to the lack of cohesion over the European vaccination strategy. These digital certificates are supposed to hold information about the immunity to COVID-19 of European citizens—this includes COVID-19 detection tests results as well as information on vaccination or recovery from the disease. However, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) does not recognize the efficiency of all the vaccines administered in the EU. Indeed, at the time of writing the controversial Sputnik V and Sinopharm vaccines were not approved by the agency but were nonetheless used or considered by several EU members. Hungary notably started inoculating its population with both Sputnik V and Sinopharm jabs, clearly bypassing the EMA. This national decision sabotages the Digital Green Certificate, as it does not recognize vaccines not approved by the EMA: there will be a split in the recognition of the vaccination between European citizens. One may fear that the lack of recognition of a part of the administered vaccines will result in vaccinal segregation, where some member-states refuse the entry of European citizens vaccinated with unapproved jabs like Sputnik V. In the end, the decision taken by some member-states to vaccinate their citizens with non-EMA approved doses to protect them from the virus as quickly as possible could ultimately be detrimental to their population, potentially forbidden from travelling freely in the EU even after their vaccination. Hence, a proposal that aimed at facilitating the freedom of movement in the Union turns out to complicate it even more because of a few decisions that favored national interests over the ones of the community.

Furthermore, the European recovery plan—the key initiative in managing the crisis—is also endangered by the unwillingness of member states to mobilise support for the Community. The plan must be ratified by all twenty-seven national parliaments to come into effect. However, national debates and blockages may slow down the roll-out of the recovery plan. Indeed, some Eurosceptic groups may try to hinder its approval as the recovery plan can be considered a federalist milestone. For instance, the German Citizen’s Will Alliance has filed a complaint to the Constitutional court as they believe the European treaties do not allow for contracting a common debt. As a result, at the time of writing, only thirteen member states had ratified the recovery plan. This raises serious doubts on the strength of the cohesion of the member states, as well as on their desire to stand together in the face of the crisis. Without rapid ratification, it seems unlikely that the first grant payments will start during summer—as originally planned. The time taken between the conception of a new initiative and its actual implementation is excessive: member states need help to economically recover as soon as possible, and solidarity dictates that each member would ratify the plan as promptly as they can. Still, a recovery plan adopted in July 2020 is far from being ratified in March 2021.

To conclude, the Monnet-Schuman approach to the European construction can only succeed if the member states are dedicated to truly be united. If not, the Union becomes a lump of clay. It develops ambitious policies that have the power to create a de facto solidarity between its members but if European unity falters only slightly, the policies that are being pursued are at the risk of collapsing. Whilst the organization of coordinated actions between a few member states on issues that are specific to them may not jeopardize the Union, the gravity of the current crisis requires complete solidarity between the member states. The EU is condemned to constant blockages as long as the member states are not willing to renew their commitment to conviction-based solidarity.

Rose Hartwig-Peillon


[1] Extract of the Schuman Declaration, presented on the 9th of March 1950. This declaration was redacted by R. Schuman and J. Monnet.

[2] Van Middelaar, L., 2020. Alarums & excursions: Improvising Politics on the European Stage. Newcastle upon Tyne: Agenda Publishing.

[3] Grimmel, A., 2020. “Le Grand absent Européen”: solidarity in the politics of European integration. Acta Politica, 55, pp.1-19.









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