International burden‐sharing, that is, the question how costs of common initiatives or the provision of public goods should be shared between states, raises two important questions. First, the question of motivation. How do we explain calls for burden‐sharing beyond the state? Second, the question of patterns. How can one account for the unequal distribution of burdens across countries that one observes? In order to address these questions, the first part of the paper proposes and analyses two burden‐sharing approaches—one based on a ‘cost–benefit logic’, the other on a ‘norm‐based’ logic—that offer partly competing and partly complementary hypotheses for answering these two questions. The second part analyses EU attempts to share burdens in the area of forced migration in order to test these hypotheses empirically. The results suggest that although there is still little evidence for inter‐state solidarity in the EU, norm‐based approaches can nonetheless offer a powerful account of European burden‐sharing in the area of forced migration.