The European Union's solidarity clause: Empty letter or effective tool?

Over seven months since the EU's Lisbon Treaty was ratified, the meaning of its 'Solidarity Clause' remains open to interpretation, write Sara Myrdal and Mark Rhinard of the Swedish Institute for International Affairs.

The following contribution was authored by Sara Myrdal and Mark Rhinard as part of a publication for the Swedish Institute for International Affairs.

"In the EU's rush to implement the Lisbon Treaty, little attention has been paid to the 'Solidarity Clause', now enshrined as Article 222 in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. This one-page provision creates one of the most explicit demands upon EU members to act jointly and to assist one another in the face of disasters, emergencies and crises on the European continent. Yet the precise meaning of this demand, and its implications for EU institutions and member states, has yet to be fully assessed.

So far the notion of EU solidarity and mutual assistance has meant different things to different people (and governments). As long as solidarity remained a rhetorical device in the EU context, such differences could be tolerated. Now that solidarity has been established as a legal concept through the Solidarity Clause, such differences need to be reconciled.

In a recent paper published by the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, we studied the meaning of the Solidarity Clause at a timely moment in its development. Not only are the complexities of modern crises becoming increasingly apparent (think of the volcanic ash crisis, H1N1 or large-scale natural disasters), but the political-administrative machinery to support the Solidarity Clause is now being put in place.

A proposal is due from the European Commission in the upcoming months, and an opportunity will emerge to 'frame' the Clause in a way that is consistent with its original intent.

The task thus facing European and national policymakers is to flesh out details regarding the commitments embedded in the Clause. Ignoring those commitments, or assuming that the Clause will never be triggered, may prove to be a dangerous strategy informed by wishful thinking.

In our paper we offer an interpretation of the Clause. We start out by detailing its history and positioning it against the backdrop of other solidarity obligations in Europe. We then provide details on the content of the Clause and outline seven questions regarding its implementation. We conclude the paper with two sections, providing an overview of recent developments and then offering recommendations for policymakers.

Briefly put, our recommendations encourage policymakers to take a short-term, medium-term, and long-term view of the Solidarity Clause.

The short‐term view focuses on the upcoming 'implementation arrangements' and the need to clarify the position and role of the Clause vis-à-vis other existing instruments in the EU. The medium-term examines situations in which the Clause might be 'triggered' and considers national readiness to provide solidarity to others. The long-term view widens the perspective to the development of the Solidarity Clause over time, not only as a signpost in the inexorable journey towards 'Europeanised' crisis cooperation but also as a spur to thinking about solidarity obligations more broadly.

The readers are reminded of the fact that the policy choices made today will have a lasting impact on whether the EU will develop into an efficient crisis manager in the face of increasingly complex risks and threats." To view the publication in full, please click here.