Where's the Solidarity?

Greece's severe financial crisis is the focus of a series of complex discussions in Europe.

Greece's severe financial crisis is the focus of a series of complex discussions in Europe - at institutions of the European Union, among governments and in the media.

These discussions are surprising on two levels: First, the extent of the crisis, which stems partly from false reports by the previous conservative government in Athens, intended to pave the way for Greece's entry to the eurozone; and second, the magnitude of anti-Greek feelings, especially strong in Germany, which shows that beyond the rhetoric that accompanied the creation of the EU, there is still no sense of European citizenship and cross-border solidarity. In a time of crisis, national interests and awareness are much stronger than the high - but abstract - idea of a united European nation. The decision in principle made last week to help Greece could not counter the sense that pan-European solidarity is weak.

While signs of this weakness have existed in recent years, the Greek crisis has highlighted them. Objections to the Treaty of Lisbon, which was aimed at strengthening the EU's institutions, led to difficulties in ratifying it. The Irish rejected the treaty in their first referendum, and the Czech Republic's obstinate president, Vaclav Klaus, was roundly criticized for refusing to sign the treaty even after it was ratified by parliament in Prague.

Even when it seemed that the ratification process had overcome the bumps in the road and the time had come to choose the officials whose posts the treaty had created - president and foreign minister - European governments did not pick strong and prominent figures like Tony Blair or Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. Rather, two colorless public figures were chosen whose names even those in the know have trouble pronouncing. Once again it turned out that national sovereignty outweighs noble ideas about developing a unified European identity. Just as countries do not tend to give up territory, they do not tend to give up powers.

However, hesitation about helping Greece has a deeper dimension. Opponents argue that the European Central Bank, which with the euro has replaced the central banks of the eurozone, does not have the power to help an individual country. In fact, Clause 125 of the Treaty on European Union states that neither the European Union as a whole nor the member countries will be responsible for the debts of individual governments.

Formally this is true, but the newspapers stress other reasons. For example, the question arises on why citizens of Germany, who have submitted to economic edicts to prevent fiscal collapse in their country, should have to subsidize the Greeks' wasteful lifestyle. These arguments reiterate intimations about the lifestyle and rationale of the northern countries as opposed to the lack of responsibility and wastefulness of "the Mediterranean" (the fact that Spain and Portugal are facing similar difficulties underscores this approach). This is not exactly a racist argument, but it comes dangerously close, and even labor union activists are among its supporters.

Thus, despite the rhetoric of officials in Brussels and academics in think tanks, a European demos has not yet come into being. After all, such a thing could not happen internally. If a certain district in a certain country were suffering from an economic crisis, similar arguments would not be made; that is the test of solidarity.

It's clearly easier for the EU to rule in conflicts that are beyond its borders (the Palestinian issue is not the only one that has drawn European rhetoric), but it's harder to identify and show support when it comes to Europe's various components. Lacking the anti-Soviet adhesive that brought the Germans and French together and created an impressive sense of shared destiny, it's harder to persuade good European citizens to identify with the citizens of another European country when it comes to their pockets or well-being.