Will EU Break-Up? – Covid-19 Pandemic Lithmus Test for Solidarity & Resilience

Written by | Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

The current crisis, which plays outagainst the backdrop of existing tensions –such as the rise of populism, uncertainty about European solidarity, Brexit or East-West divide – comes as a real test for the European Union. This puzzling situation prompts some commentators to question the possibility of the EU’s imminent break-up. The EU hasquite naturally – and rightfully – come under fire for its slow response in the coronavirus outbreak. The bloc’s early missteps set the stage for heavy criticism at a time when people were looking to governments to protect them from an invisible enemy. It was hardly reassuring for the European public when their leaders, at EU video summit, failed to agree on further economic measures to be implemented during the rapidly evolving pandemic, an outcome that highlights existing divides between member states on economic policy.”The future of the European project is at stake, we choose between a coordinated and united EU or individualism,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez commented.
All European citizens are more less equally affected by the Covid-19 – whether by the virus itself or by the economic downturn caused by the strict measures imposed by member governments. Still, while citizens in some EU member states can walk more or less freely around their cities, in some others they can’t leave their homes. Schools and shops in some EU states are open, while in many others are not. But in light of such a range of different policies in a supposedly borderless Europe, how can we achieve the same aim: the containment of the highly infectious disease? Feeling during this emergency situation like in war times, perhaps a great majority of European citizens now look to the EU for protection and joint solutions – while Brussels looks helpless. This prompted Ursula von der Leyen, the head of EU’s executive, to rebuke member governments because they selfishly “looked out for themselves”, even restricting exports of medical supplies to other EU countries and closing borders.
The EU itself can’t do much about a pandemic since it can’t close schools, suspend football matches or lock down European cities. These and other policies (including the right to shutborders to curb the spread of the virus) are the responsibility of member governments. But what the EU can do is to mitigate the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, by offering its countries flexibility over EU deficit and state aid rules. Indeed, that’s what it has finally done, including agreeing ona €37bn investment fund to counter the effects of Covid-19 on the economy across the bloc, launching a joint procurement operation covering, ventilators, masks and other vital medical equipment needed across the continent and setting upa new permanent European crisis management centre. But now EU governments should make even more effort to hammer out joint policies to lead their 500 million citizens out of this unprecedented crisis at a time when their common destiny as one community – in the face of a common enemy – has never looked so real.

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