The EU is founded on common values. But what are European values? One definition is provided by the EU Treaty: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”.

Surveys show that these values are indeed important to many Europeans. However, can we really say these concepts are somehow uniquely European? Furthermore, studies show there are fundamental differences within Europe in how these values are interpreted and assigned importance. With so many different perceptions across the continent, can we really talk of “common European values”?

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Rogerio summarising what he considers to be European values, namely “democracy, human rights, solidarity, respect for the opinions of others, Christianity, family, equal rights and opportunities for men and women, and security.

To get a response to Rogerio, we have put his comment to Despina Spanou, Head of Cabinet for Vice-President of the European Commission Margaritis Schinas, who has the portfolio “Promoting our European way of life”, which aims to “Protect our citizens and our values”. What are European values for Despina Spanou?

The portfolio “Promoting our European way of life” was created precisely with the idea of promoting our values, the values that distinguish Europe from the rest of the world because they are respected. (…) Security is also an important value in Europe. We know that every time a country is affected by a terrorist attack, we have an EU-wide response. So protecting our society, protecting our citizens, protecting our homes, our parks, our public life, is also part of European values.

Many people ask: “What is the issue of migration doing in the portfolio of the European way of life?” Well, migration is a reality. But migration is also there because a lot of the policy we have to make is not just about asylum policy. Our values apply here as well. A big value is that people who have fled wars and suffering have a right to find asylum in Europe, to find Europe as a place of refuge. But it is also about ensuring that those who have arrived here can enjoy these values in the same way and belong.

It is also about ensuring that everyone who is in the EU enjoys these values in the same way, whether it is democracy – participation in public life must be possible for everyone – whether it is education, education should be available to everyone, whether it is skills and employment, everyone should have access to a job, to qualifications, to acquiring skills, and so on.

And then, of course, we have a very important value that is not often mentioned, namely mobility. One of the most important values (…) is the movement across borders. And that is very important for students, look at the Erasmus programme, there are millions of people who have benefited from a life-changing event. That has a huge social impact. Of course we need labour mobility, not only because people are looking for a job somewhere else for a number of reasons. We also need it for the proper sharing of skills for emergency situations. Look at what happened with the medical staff. We had to mobilise medical staff between countries during the pandemic. That is also a very important value, the right to free movement.

Another very important value is solidarity. During the pandemic, we have seen more than ever that Europe is all about solidarity. Nowhere else in the world could you imagine 27 sovereign countries (…) coming together and tackling a pandemic together, coordinated and united. Look at what happened with the vaccines. Everyone agreed (…) that we will all get the right share of access for the population. No one should have an edge, no one should have more population coverage than the others. We have to be fair and equitable.

It is very important to talk about values in a much broader way than the typical way, and I see Rogerio talking about Christianity. Of course, respect for Christianity is a very important value, but another very important value is inter-religious dialogue, protecting the culture and religion of everyone who lives in Europe. We do not discriminate on the basis of religion, just as we do not discriminate in the EU for any other reason. So you have in the Vice-President’s portfolio for the movement of “promoting our European way of life” also inter-religious dialogue and (…) the fight against anti-Semitism. Because another very important value of Europe is not to forget our history, not to forget our mistakes and to make sure that they are not repeated and that their lasting effects are abolished and eliminated.

For another perspective, we also put Rogerio’s comment to Dr Inge Sieben, Associate Professor at Tilburg University. Together with the European Values Study team, she is conducting a large-scale, international research programme on the values most important to Europeans. What does she think European values are?

Thank you for this comment, Rogerio, it is a very interesting and important question. I’m doing research on European values in a large-scale survey project where we asked people from all over Europe what they think is important in life. And that is actually the definition of values: what people think is important. The things Rogerio mentioned are indeed very important for many citizens in Europe – you can also count freedom and justice among them. But there are more aspects to the issues, and if you ask deeper what people mean by them, they all come up with different ideas. For example, equality means something different to everyone.

So, in general, you are right about these abstract concepts, but when you go deeper, you find many differences, and I think that is what Europe is: it is united in diversity. We have values that are common to us, but there are also many differences between people and what they really think about it.

This leads us nicely to the point made by Ivan, who sent us in a comment arguing that there is no such thing as “European values”, but rather “there are at least 50 national value systems within Europe.” Is he right?

We put Ivan’s comment to Laura Sullivan, Executive Director of We Move Europe, a citizens’ movement aiming to strengthen the capacity of citizens to change Europe for the benefit of society, future generations and the planet. How would she respond to Ivan?

This is a really interesting question, which brings me to a campaign that We Move Europe worked on when the new commissioners came into office. One of them was Commissioner Schinas, the Commissioner for the portfolio “Promoting our European Way of Life”. We ran a campaign to question this name because we question the idea that there is a “European way of life”. Because the term has connotations, especially in the context of migration, that are really questionable in the sense of a kind of superiority complex. Are there different kinds of values in Europe? I’m sure there are. But I would simply say that when it comes to the European Union, what matters most is whether the values are actually lived.

So when it comes to the values that are mentioned, like justice, solidarity, democracy, equality and so on – are they practiced when you look at the European Union at large? This week Ylva Johansson, the Commissioner for Migration, landed in the Moria camp. She landed by military helicopter and got into a car surrounded by armed guards. What we read from reports on the ground is that she did not leave the car and did not speak to anyone there. So if solidarity is one of the values, how can the Commissioner for Migration not get out of the car?

And that’s exactly how she went to the Greek-Turkish border a year ago with Ursula von der Leyen. When Erdogan basically told the people, “Come on, you can cross the border”, they were then met with all kinds of violence. Again, the two top politicians of our institutions did not land with their helicopter to talk to the people fleeing, they just talked to the Greek authorities and called Greece a “shield for Europe”, which has all kinds of connotations, and that really brings out an almost warlike language. So if there is no solidarity in the narrative that is communicated by our leaders, and if there is no solidarity in practice, is it really there in practice? So for me, the most important question is not whether we have the values in theory, but whether they are practised.

We also put Ivan’s comment to Dr Inge Sieben. What does she think? Are there only national values, and no European values?

Well, he’s right, but he’s also wrong. So again a good question, because to really determine all these aspects as European values is kind of difficult. Because many people in the world appreciate these values. So it might not be specific to Europe, but the values of human rights are appreciated by many people. So in a sense it is difficult to say whether there are European values or not. But I don’t agree that there are 50 or more national values, because there is the same problem with national values: many people may think the same in one country, but still there are many differences. And sometimes two countries can be very similar. So I would say that European values are a better definition than national values.

But still, it is important to know that as researchers we find that there are many differences between people, even within a country. In fact, the differences between groups of people are greater than the differences between regions or countries. And of course it is true that context matters. Where you live or where you were born matters, but individual characteristics, such as the family you grew up in, also matter.

Finally, Marion left a comment arguing there is a contradiction between the values the EU professes publicly and the Union’s actual behaviour, especially when it comes to the refugee crisis. She says: “There’s lots of talk about having to defend our values. But where are those values when it comes to our fellow human beings at the EU’s external borders?”

We have put Marion’s comment to Despina Spanou, who coordinates EU Commissioner Schinas’ Cabinet on “Promoting our European Way of Life”, which is responsible for the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. How would she respond to Marion’s question?

I understand what she means when she says she is ashamed. It is true that we can no longer accept not having a European Union asylum and migration policy. We have failed. With the proposal we have made on the new migration pact, we hope that we will finally get there. And I think all the parameters are there. We need a European approach, we can no longer have some member states that are more generous than others, some that are more prepared than others, some that are more negative than others. We need a European approach. We need a proportionate approach to asylum seekers versus those who are not accepted.

We also need to protect our borders, we also need a very balanced approach to everything. But I think it is indeed very important that we agree on a uniform asylum procedure in Europe. At the same time, with the new migration pact, we have also tried to do something for the rest of the world by addressing the sources from which these migration flows come. So we have stepped up our work on the external aspects of migration, working with the countries where the migrants come from to try to promote peace and opportunity in those countries. But also to make sure that we have a balanced flow of migration from those parts of the world where it is necessary that they lead to people who are eligible to apply for asylum in Europe versus those who need to be sent back or resettled. So that is a very, very important aspect of our current work on migration – to address the source of the problem, also to help people while they are still over there in their countries looking for a better future.

Last but not least, how would Laura Sullivan, Executive Director of We Move Europe, respond to Marion’s point?

I would say: Marion, do you want a job? Because that’s exactly how we feel at We Move Europe. Since 2013, we have been like the proverbial “slow-boiled frogs” in Europe. What do I mean by that? We have been slow cooked in the sense of a narrative that started around 2013 when the far right in Europe compared people on the move to criminals, to bad people who either wanted to steal our jobs or were very lazy (they couldn’t decide which). And since then, unfortunately, our EU leaders have not adopted such directly toxic language, but have almost turned the language and narrative into something extremely robotic.

Let me give you an example. If you read any of the texts around migration, you will see the words “flows” or “illegals” much more often than “people” or “folk”. We reduce people to facts and figures and “flows” and “illegals” rather than people who have rights. Basically, I would say that as a pro-European and as a director of We Move Europe, I am concerned and ashamed of the path the European Union is on. It can be made good, but we need to start making amends pretty quickly.

What are European values? What are European values for you? Are there European values at all or only national values? And does the EU live up to its values? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

62 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    I hold this truth to be universal – that all human beings are born equal in dignity and have these unalienable rights of life, liberty, security, justice, property, thought and happiness!

  2. avatar

    Any kind of shared and common values will create anxiety and exclusion feelings to the ones who live in Europe and they don’t share. Another taboo that Political corectness is not letting you discuss…..

  3. avatar

    The only common European value is logical cinstructivism.

  4. avatar
  5. avatar
    EU Reform Proactive

    I can’t help to express my helplessness to figure out why the FoE/DE keeps repeating riding, riding, riding & forever riding their “E-values”- hobby horse until total exhaustion. Should you not know, please do some research.

    Sorry for asking: not gone to Finland, entered & jumped- not won a medal? It’s not my hobby & won’t make the rest of the world better. It only increases the feeling of guilt & dependency on the holy EU empire of 27 nations.

  6. avatar

    Being in control of football rather than allowing Americans usurp their control over a culture they don’t understand

  7. avatar

    Intelligence, knowledge and science before superstitions, respect towards other human beings, open mind. All those good things we lost.

  8. avatar

    I share very little with socialist view of Europe

  9. avatar

    Can people live only with values? When people are so interdependent and interconnected with the development of the global system, talking about values would lead to more conflict than cooperation for mutual benefit and collective security. EU is founded on grounds of collective security to avoid the third world war, do not divert attention again to values and ideologies such as equality and rights which are not able to quantify. When everyone has their own standard, how can we meet all aspirations? As modern society has its legal structure to hold government responsibility, it is better to work out things rather than talking, dreaming and fighting for values, particularly when the whole world is in the pandemic. How to survive and secure the economy is most important of all.

  10. avatar

    Why China has such a long and unbroken civilization of over 5000 years? It is because the Chinese have been busy fight to survive from all adversities of the nature. They have no time for empty talks on values. Still now, the Chinese leaders have no beautiful and bold values to win support but to raise the living standard of all so that people can have the kind of living they are looking forward to. It is just insane for Europe to sanction China with a piece of fake news fabricated by a BBC reporter. As the UK has already left the EU. A prosperous EU doing business with China for post-pandemic economic recovery would make the British looks stupid to stop doing business with China for the US has returned.

  11. avatar

    It has just disclosed that Chinese national enterprises investment in the UK in 2020 was just 23 billion pounds. It was 99 billion pounds in 2019. In addition, the UK has started removing Huawei equipment. Huawei has also announced the closing down of offices in the UK which has brought 1600 jobs. In 2018, Huawei had decided to invest 30 billion pounds to establish a research center at Cambridge. It seems that the decision had also abandoned. What value of these irrational political decision has brought to the British people?

  12. avatar

    When the American president Nixon had visited China for the market share in February 1972, when China was still overwhelmingly governing in communism and planned economy. Why the America had totally ignored the American values of democracy and doing business with a communist country? The Japanese immediately established the diplomatic relationship with China in September 1972 well before the US. What the history has told us is that European values serve to promote European unity but they should not be used as a tools for politicians to fight for their political interests while sacrificing collective interests of the collective i.e. European interests.

    • avatar

      Foreign policy/international relations should better be reserved for professional politicians and elected political leaders of all member states at the EU Council. The EU Parliament should better be putting more focus on internal matters of the EU.

  13. avatar

    European has the freedom to construct a set of values as normative guidance at the domestic level but they should not be used to pressurize other countries to following at the international level. All civilizations ought to have its own values and should be respected. People who have a knowledge on international relations and European history ought to know that the UN Charters regarding things on state sovereignty and boundary, etc. are virtually basing on the Westphalian Treaty signed by nation-states of Europe to stop the 30-year war on 24 October 1649. Supporting the UN is equal to support an ancient European values. The Chinese have successfully worked out a “Socialist System with Chinese Characteristics”. Xijinping has been calling to build a “community with shared future for mankind”. In my opinion, it looks like a mix of Marxist socialism and the “great unity” mentioned in a Confucian classic Liji. When searching for European values, do not forget what Europe has already had.

  14. avatar

    The ,,authoritiarian” Lukashenko is elected by the popular vote of the Belarusian people 5 times in a row. Who elected the ,,democratic” leader Von Der Leyen? No one. Because the President of the EU Commission is not elected by popular vote.

    • avatar

      Крис Караджов Mrs. Von Der Leyen was elected I saw that election and vote….and I believe that your own Mr. Lukashenko rigged his own election as a tallie was taken at his election and according to that tallie …he did not win….so please be very carefull what you write here

    • avatar

      Yvonne O’Neill 1. You didn’t vote for Mrs. Von Der Leyen. You voted for representatives in the EU Parluament. That’s not the same.2. Lukashenko is not ,,my own”. He is not my President because I’m not Belarusian and he is not my slave so I don’t own him. 3. There is zero evidence that the Belarusian elections were rigged. A person who wins Presidential elections 5 times in a row can’t start manipulating elections in his fifth time. If he manipulated them that would have started in the mid 90s when he came to power. Why the EU said nothing back then?4. Find someone of your own category to argue with.

    • avatar

      Крис Караджов Good morning….please dont be rude..and if mr. lukashenko is not your leader you have nothing to worry about..i know absolutly nothing of Bellarussia but hijacking one of my planes(yes im irish and am part owner of the airline like my other compatriots)!!hijackinking one of our planes to cart someone to Bellarussia to be tortured for his “Freedom to speak” openly and wrong. full stop . What should be done about the question here..and the only thing we are aloud to do is Sanctions (but as im an ordinarry citizen and aloud to speak freely without fear of reprisals..personally..i would put Mr. Lukashenko in a room with the leaders of the G7..and watch the mayhem..let him feel the fear for a while..and i am a passifist..i would then sit him down with not a hair on his head touched and say..well mr. lukashenko what exactly did you acheive by doing that to an ordinary blogger and person? realy do you want to start WW3?be my guest and sit in the cheranoble chamber for a week and see how well you feel after that!!please..dont tempt just an ordinary housewife and must go a nd put the washing on the line now!!..but like you i do have an oppinion..and no one is aloud to put me down for just having an oppinion.May i wish you Peace..and Mr. Lukashenko may i especially wish you realy need it..please let the blogger and his wife have nothing to fear from them..they are frightened people ..just like yourself…Peace is just too short ..greetings from Ireland :D ☘

    • avatar

      Yvonne O’Neill we have these commentators here in Lithuania too. I see the same bullshit arguments on here, just in English. Seems like the troll factories are working day and night. Whataboutism being their greatest weapon. Always blaming everybody else, praising Lukashenko, etc. Seems like they weaponized social media pretty well.

    • avatar

      Yvonne, the leaders of the G7 are weaklings, puppets, fat cats, serpents. Not men.

  15. avatar

    Sanction Austria as well, for the grounding and takeover of Evo Morales plane in 2013.

    • avatar

      Possible double standards? Does this mean the EU should stay silent on the abduction of a journalist in Belarus?

    • avatar

      Debating Europe Possible? As it becoming trendy – highly likely. Same thing did Poroshenko in Ukraine, landing by force a Belarusian airliner in 2016. Everyone kept quiet. European values seem rather selective.

  16. avatar

    “European values”? Nonsense invented by Liberal propagandists

  17. avatar

    “How should the EU respond to authoritarian tactics from such dictatorships? “It cannot and will not do anything meaningful, that is why the others are brazen. It is in bed with many such authoritarians

  18. avatar

    I have an idea: what about actually doing something instead of posting loosely related stuff on Facebook? The only thing that happened as of today is that privately owned airline companies stopped flying in the Belarus airspace. The EU, as always, is sadly absent in any matter that happens literally at its borders.

  19. avatar

    It’s a difficult question…1. Sanctions are the only way…but it often has an effect on innocent people and not the dictator…..2. Calling the dictator out biblically around the world might make them change. 3. Bring the dictator to a meeting with the G7….possibly….have lots of security on hand!!…I’m sure that would be an interesting meeting….4. Write down a list of things that the EU finds wrong with the regime ..then write a list of how to do it correctly in the eyes of the EU and maybe publish it in papers and all media..asking for peace and stability for the sake of their people’s and the world….after that I would probably cry a lot

    • avatar

      Yvonne O’Neill I agree, I´m afraid it´s political propaganda. Europeanvalues are not the same as in Turkey , in the United States or Russia and we should not try to change their values. EU will never write down a list like yours, so let us have mutual respect among all countries.

    • avatar

      I agree with the mutual respect Mr. Mallus but they cant hijack one of our planes and torture a blogger and his wife and expect the world to sit back and watch and say nothing.Im sure Mrs. Von Der Leyen has had a meeting with Mr. Lukashenko..personally i think ,(just as an ordinary housewife) that they should bring Mr. Lukashenko to a meeting of the G7 and see the sparks fly cant just hijack a plane and torture someone and expect to get away with it !! anyway all cost Peace.

    • avatar

      Yvonne. I don’t see you moaning when the Chocolate Baron of Ukraine forced a Belarussian aircraft to land.

  20. avatar

    Draw a rainbow with crayons. Radicalize overlays for Facebook profile photos. <3

  21. avatar

    Aaah yes ….Belarus the easy target for EU…for Turkey EU is closing her eyes constantly…

    • avatar

      Why do you think Turkey is getting special treatment from the EU?

    • avatar

      Debating Europe Because it’s obvious? It’s like “why do you think that sky is blue?”

  22. avatar

    Lukašenko was elected by popular vote, I don’t remember having an option to vote for Von Der Leyen or any of the cronies who rule from Brussels.EU has no right to call out “dictators” since it is governed by unelected bureaucrats itself.Although I do remember an incident in 2013 when your greatest ally, the USA with the help of a EU member state tried to do the same thing you accuse Belaruse of, even hijacking a plane which had a president of a sovereign country aboard.Brussels is a den of lying snakes and a prison for nations of Europe.

  23. avatar

    EU values became clear when Austria forced a diplomatic plane to land to be searched for Snowden, on the order of USA.A lot of the EU leaders have become puppets of a foreign nation, which means they commit treason on a daily bases, just as the media and NGOs which support that.

  24. avatar

    Erm, who elected the eu leaders? The eu isn’t exactly democratic itself so maybe look inward instead of outward

  25. avatar

    First, democracy calls for investigating facts before jumping to conclusion. Supporting riots are not democratic as most riots are only supported by a minority. As long as a country with the majority of major media outlets located in the Parliament complex is accepted in the EU, countries like Belarus should, too.

  26. avatar

    EU now is ready to change things, first they will correct things among their friends, first the gang leading Turkey, then will go in Arab world, and continue with Africa, they will such democratic changes so Lukashenko will terrify and run away

  27. avatar

    Cutting any kind of relationship with Bielorusssia…. Isolate the country!!

  28. avatar

    As we can see that American populism is increasingly dominated European democracies. This means traditional European values are being replaced, unfortunately by American style of stealing, cheating and lying. What are European values? Should European values be replaced by the American values, representing by hypocrites Obama and Biden, or the real villain Trump ?

  29. avatar

    European values are Christian values… And Greek values about democracy

  30. avatar

    They don’t exist. ,,European values” emptied of content.

  31. avatar

    Do you mean European Values or the lack of values from the eu?

  32. avatar
  33. avatar


  34. avatar

    The entire notion of “Europe” itself came from being Christian and not wanting to be under the Ottomans. There isn’t even a “Europe” geographically.

  35. avatar

    It’s either culture, or war.

  36. avatar

    European Values?Our way or the highway.Illegal immigrants have more right that citizen.Science is just a bat we can use to spread our political bs (see covid, see climate) and we will soundly ignore it if it goes against our ideology (see abortion, see transkids, see gender, see genderpaygap )Citizenship mean nothing.If I can’t contribute to push my country out of this orwellian nightmare i will gladly relocate to the few place in the western world that have not succumbed to woke marxist bs.And i’ll watch this ship sink from the shore.

  37. avatar

    I don´t think that Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman started talking about Europe, it was not about the Europeans values.

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