TT News Agency (Reuters)

For a non myopic approach to European solidarity

Carlos Closa Montero

5 mins - 15 de Marzo de 2022, 09:30

On 8th March 2020, the Prime Ministers of Finland and Sweden asked the European Council to activate the EU mutual support clause in the event of aggression (article 42.7 TEU). In their letter, the two leaders call for a strong role for solidarity between member states in the context of Russia's aggression against Ukraine. Solidarity, in addition to being a value mentioned in the EU treaty as one of its foundations, serves for building and strengthening relations between member states and EU citizens. Consistently with that aim, solidarity is a moral as well as a material duty for member states and more so with those who feel directly threatened by Russia. The current circumstances offer an opportunity for the EU to strengthen itself around one of its key values. However, this is also a defining moment for interpreting what solidarity consists of.

The mutual defense clause (Article 42(7)) provides that if a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other States have an obligation to aid and assist by all the means at their disposal. The Lisbon Treaty introduced this provision following the patronage of the Greek government that sought collective insurance from its EU partners in its long-running conflict with Turkey. Given the overlapping commitments in defence between EU and NATO, the article nuances the obligation by referring to respect for NATO commitments. Thus, commitments and cooperation in the framework of the mutual defense provision will respect commitments made within NATO framework which remains, for its member states, the foundation of their collective defense and its implementing body.

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Unexpectedly, the French government invoked first this provision in 2015 in the aftermath of the Bataclan terrorist attacks, although it did not lead to immediate and automatic implementation. In fact, both the High Representative Federica Mogherini and the governments of Spain and Germany, among others, expressed doubts about the concrete scope of the obligation (see
here). Naturally, the Russian aggression poses a very different scenario that requires a greater intensity in the exercise of solidarity, albeit subject to three considerations.

The first has to do with coherence: the two states that have appealed to solidarity and the mutual support/defence clause have, paradoxically, a "differentiated" situation in very same provision. Thus, the duty of aid and assistance is understood without prejudice to the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states, wording that appeals to the policy of neutrality or non-integration into NATO of, precisely, four of the EU members (Austria, Ireland, Finland and Sweden) among which the two current petitioners for European solidarity are to be found. It is bizarre that those requesting solidarity have, a priori, a barrier that shields them from this obligation if it were demanded to provide solidarity. Although current circumstances differ radically from the context in which the clause was drafted, on a symbolic level at least, claimants should perhaps show their commitment to a coherent interpretation of equal obligations, duties and rights for all rather than appealing to their “specificity”.

The second nuance relates to the lessons learned from the management of financial solidarity mechanisms during the fiscal crisis. In that period, leaders of lender states emphasised the need for strong democratic legitimacy for approving the national instruments that channeled solidarity. In today's context, the means and, above all, the consequences of activating solidarity in the defence sphere are incalculable. But it is clear to no one that they can be enormous and this means that the requirement of national parliamentary approvals of any mutual aid decision is inexcusable.

And the third consideration is self-evident: solidarity cannot be a value to serve only certain needs: in the past, requests for solidarity from other states, such as Greece and Italy, for the resettlement of refugees after the migration crises of 2015 or, otherwise, from countries affected in the fiscal crisis that began in 2008 were treated in some quarters with disdain. Being the current crisis one that may have existential overtones, those who previously questioned the value of solidarity may realise its centrality to the European project.

Unfortunately, the European Council Declaration has not echoed the Swedish-Finnish request and the reasons for this have not emerged. While European Council agreements on other issues are important, the EU should avoid the position expressed in 2012 by Finland's then Finance Minister when she declared: our solidarity is limited and demanded collateral for financial backing guarantees (not loans!) provided by that state. The EU and its member states would do well to transcend this short-sighted view of solidarity precisely because it cannot be ruled out that in the future any of them will need to invoke this principle.
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