Solidarity and Crisis Politics in the EU

by Victoria Struys, Tor Froeytvedt Dahl, and Samantha Renee Hebri  

On February 12, the Institute of European Studies was pleased to welcome Philipp Trein, a Senior Researcher in Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Lausanne and Senior Fellow at IES, for his lecture titled “Solidarity and Crisis Politics in the EU”. Focusing on EU crisis policies and politics and how they unfolded in the EU, Trein compared those policies to other federal states and explored the possibility of solidarity among member states in periods of crisis. 

Focusing on two main crises— the 2009-2012 eurozone, and the 2015 immigration crisis— Trein concluded that intergovernmental decisions are the most important. Indeed, the economic and cultural diversity of member states creates difficulties in coming to agreement on common policies. For example, during the financial crisis, heavily indebted countries such as Greece, Cyprus, and Italy saw austerity and the other conditions attached to the financial solidarity as unfair. Creditors, such as Germany, on the other hand, saw the maintenance of fiscal rules as fundamental to any discussion of debt relief. The second example presented by Trein was the immigration crisis of 2015, in which centralized EU institutions had little power over decisions made by individual member states. 

In the second part of his presentation, Trein noted that the institutional set-up of the EU is different from federal states such as the United States. Namely, the EU lacks military union of common foreign policy, as well as strong political representation that is present in other federal states. However, the EU also exhibits key federal traits such as an integrated economy, and common regulations to govern internal trade and cooperation.

Finally, Trein argued that the EU struggles to agree on a common path in part because of diverging notions of solidarity. For Trein, there are two ideal types of solidarity in federal and quasi-federal politics of crisis resolution: positive solidarity, which sees social consequences as more important than fiscal consequences, and negative solidarity, which prioritizes fiscal consequences. The resolution of crises in the European Union is characterized by the latter; high stakes, lack of powerful central authority, and diverging interests among states lead to the emphasis being placed on maintaining the existing institutional set-up and fiscal rules rather than the institutional transformation that could be cohesive to long-term integration.


During the Q&A with an audience of 15, Trein discussed positive and negative solidarity, as well as how the EU differs from other intergovernmental organizations and the struggles it faces by anti-system parties. Trein noted that the EU differs from intergovernmental organizations such as the UN through solving policy problems without involving individual states.