During a town hall-style meeting in Estonia earlier this month, Siim Kallas, the European Commissioner for Transport (and former Prime Minister of Estonia) asked the audience: “What is solidarity? Is there a definition? Do you know what the definition is?”
Kallas told the audience that, when Cyprus held the EU’s rotating Presidency of the Council in 2012, the (then-Communist) President of Cyprus repeatedly called for greater solidarity and greater redistribution of wealth within Europe. Commissioner Kallas, who is a pro-free market liberal, said that he wanted to ask the Cypriot President whether that meant Cypriot wealth should also be redistributed to Estonia, as Cyprus was clearly the wealthier country. He added, however, that he “didn’t dare ask it at the time.”
Today, with talk of a possible third bailout for Greece, the question of ‘solidarity’ in Europe is a topical one. The European Commission has been holding similar town hall-style meetings to the one Commissioner Kallas spoke at throughout Europe, and they have been asking audiences up and down the continent whether they believe ‘Europe means solidarity between member-states’. Perhaps surprisingly, given the bitter debate surrounding the eurozone bailouts, many of the audiences have responded positively: including 62% in Italy, 75% in Poland and 80% in Belgium.
But the question from Commissioner Kallas is a good one: what exactly is solidarity, and what does it mean in practice? Many of our commenters have argued that the eurozone bailouts do not in fact represent solidarity, as they take the form of emergency loans that push the recipient countries further into debt and force them to engage in humiliating and destructive austerity measures. Others argue that solidarity has to be accompanied by responsibility and reform, or it cannot be sustainable.
We’ve put together some facts and figures about the eurozone bailouts into an infographic below. You can see the relative sizes of the various bailout packages (though it’s important to note that not all of the bailout packages are directly comparable – e.g. some are for governments, some for the banking sector – and some of these numbers, as is the case with Spain, represent upper limits rather than actual spending). Nevertheless, these numbers give you an indication, and you can also see how unemployment has increased and how the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion has risen (or fallen, as is the case with Portugal).