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European paths to transnational solidarity at times of crisis: Conditions, forms, role-models and policy responses

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - TransSOL (European paths to transnational solidarity at times of crisis: Conditions, forms, role-models and policy responses)

Reporting period: 2016-06-01 to 2018-05-31

The economic crisis affecting the European Union (EU) since 2008 has put European solidarity through a considerable endurance test. EU institutions and member states have fallen short of expectations when drafting policies to ensure that burdens are fairly shared. Moreover, the idea of European solidarity is challenged by populist parties and xenophobic groups successfully mobilising constituencies. At the same time, however, we see that solidarity is reinvigorated in times of crisis, particularly if we look at the numerous citizens and local groups providing help to the needy—also across borders. The crisis has not only challenged established forms of European solidarity, but also triggered new forms of support and commitment.
In light of this, a nuanced and in-depth assessment of European solidarity in times of crisis is crucial for scientists, policymakers and society. TransSOL was dedicated to this objective. More specifically, TransSOL concentrated on the fields of unemployment, disabilities and migration, looking at eight European countries: Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. It pursued three overarching aims: First, it aimed to map and study solidarity in Europe by means of cross-national analyses focusing on individual citizens, organised civil society and public claims-making in the media. This way, TransSOL furnished a rigorous and comprehensive analysis of transnational solidarity in Europe in its various forms, allowing us to develop a better understanding of the multifaceted phenomenon of solidarity. In addition, the project aimed to gather systematic data on contextual factors and engage political and legal analyses in order to ascertain the influence of the socio-economic, political and legal context on solidarity, in particular the impact of the crisis. Lastly, it pursued the aim to identify and develop best practices of transnational solidarity, draft evidence-based policy recommendations and engage proactive dissemination and communication activities.
The overall findings of TransSOL seem to suggest that the future of European solidarity is uncertain: Solidarity is enshrined in the legal frameworks of Europe, in the values cherished by its citizens and in the activities of civil society organisations. However, ‘Europe’ does not seem to be the primary target and reference point of this solidarity. This is not necessarily disconcerting since our results still indicate that solidarities at different levels are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary. Citizens and civil societies tend to act locally, but they are thinking in European categories. An issue of concern are the regressive tendencies in the social, political and legal environment of civic solidarity where retrenchments were reported for all three areas of concentration. The momentum of public solidarity that came with crises lacked longevity because of a lack of adequate institutional responses and public policies.
TransSOL implemented a three-year work plan that was devoted to the development of a multidimensional dataset mapping European solidarity at different levels in six research-related work packages. The research conducted under work package 2 contributed to this objective through a standardised content analysis of websites by transnational solidarity organisations, an online survey of invited collective actors engaged in transnational solidarity organisations and qualitative interviews with civil society representatives in the fields of unemployment, disability and migration/asylum. Work under work package 3 included an online population survey that mapped individual opinions and solidarity practices in the eight countries. Research under work package 4 was devoted to the multidimensional analysis of European solidarity by means of an organisational survey aimed at inquiring about solidarity activism at the national and European level. Finally, TransSOL also engaged in a media analysis of solidarity contestation in the public sphere by retrieving and analysing a systematic and comparative dataset of public claims reported in the print media, and Facebook comments by individual media users (work package 5).
Beyond its research objectives, TransSOL was also devoted to identifying and developing best practices of European solidarity. We evaluated innovative measures and initiatives from the practitioners’ and scientists’ points of view with the aim of contributing to the improvement of existing projects and practices, thereby generating role models or pilot practices of local and transnational solidarity. In particular, TransSOL’s sixth work package was explicitly directed towards evaluating exemplary pilot cases from selected civil society organisations in order to draw lessons about good practices. Findings were presented in a summary report, a guide on transnational solidarity, a policy brief, a wikisite and a documentary video. They were also discussed in roundtables and public events organised within TransSOL. Over the course of the whole project, the main project website and the websites of the national research teams contributed to the communication of TransSOL research. Additionally, news was fed into social media accounts (Facebook, twitter), into conventional presswork and the TransSOL newsletter. Finally, the consortium also engaged in creative measures of communication by means of an artistic contest on transnational solidarity among young Europeans, and a documentary video on the same topic.
Through its research, TransSOL was and still is actively contributing to a better understanding of European solidarity in its forms, conditions and consequences. In that sense, TransSOL completed the first comprehensive mapping exercise of contextual factors hindering or promoting transnational solidarity on the individual, organisational and public levels. We looked at innovative grass-root initiatives as well as more established civil society structures at the national and EU level. Moreover, an online survey probed the attitudes of individual citizens regarding solidarity in Europe, while also mapping their behavior in terms of engagement in solidarity actions. In addition, public discourses were analysed to find out about the discursive construction of solidarity and its underlying values.
The project does and will have impact in at least three areas: (a) TransSOL identified social needs and explored the organised practices of transnational solidarity that respond to them; (b) it improved the problem-solving capacity of civil society actors and policymakers by disseminating our research findings and conclusions, and (c) it contributed to the empowerment of citizens and civil society through participation in generating and exchanging knowledge, primarily by conducting roundtables and other forms of networking and exchange. Against this background, TransSOL does and will deliver ground-breaking insights, also because the eight countries under examination represent very different (socio-economic, political and legal) contexts, allowing for a systematic comparison of the differential impact of crises and the related public and policy responses regarding solidarity. Overall, TransSOL does and will contribute to the support that guides the European integration process towards a more resilient and sustainable European society.
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