We are all in the same boat! On the legal principle of solidarity and its legal implications in the recent CJEU case law

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by Alessandra Silveira, Editor

The Opinion of the Advocate-General Eleanor Sharpston in the joined cases C-715/17, C‑718/17 and C‑719/17 (delivered on 31 October 2019) concluded by recalling an old story from the Jewish tradition that deserves wider circulation – particularly in times of COVID-19 pandemic. A group of men are travelling together in a boat. Suddenly, one of them takes out an auger and starts to bore a hole in the hull beneath himself. His companions remonstrate with him. ‘Why are you doing that?’ they cry. ‘What are you complaining about?’ says he. ‘Am I not drilling the hole under my own seat?’ ‘Yes,’ they reply, ‘but the water will come in and flood the boat for all of us’ (paragraph 255).

The story is recalled by the Advocate-General regarding the principle of solidarity provided in Article 80 TFEU: “The policies of the Union set out in this Chapter [‘Policies on border checks, asylum and immigration’] and their implementation shall be governed by the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility, including its financial implications, between the Member States. Wherever necessary, Union acts adopted pursuant to this Chapter shall contain appropriate measures to give effect to this principle”.

On this principle – which requires all Member States – the Advocate-General stated that “respecting the ‘rules of the club’ and playing one’s proper part in solidarity with fellow Europeans cannot be based on a penny-pinching cost-benefit analysis along the lines (familiar, alas, from Brexiteer rhetoric) of ‘what precisely does the EU cost me per week and what exactly do I personally get out of it?’ Such self-centredness is a betrayal of the founding fathers’ vision for a peaceful and prosperous continent. It is the antithesis of being a loyal Member State and being worthy, as an individual, of shared European citizenship. If the European project is to prosper and go forward, we must all do better than that” (paragraph 254 of the Opinion).
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