COVID-19 impact: The rise of the G20, the decline of the EU

COVID-19 impact: The rise of the G20, the decline of the EU

Struggling with the pandemic and its global economic impacts, world leaders are going down hard on intensifying international cooperation through virtual meetings. It’s too early to be optimistic for an orchestrated and united global action against COVID-19 as the pandemic continues to kill people across the globe.

There are good and bad examples of how international organizations are tackling the contagion: The G20 and the European Union held separate videoconferences on March 26 at the leaders’ level and while the former injected a glimpse of optimism on this fight, the latter failed to create unity among member countries.

Surely, these are two different organizations with different objectives and principles. The world’s top 19 economies established the G20 with the participation of the EU in 1999 but energized the international forum in 2008 through annual leaders’ summit in a bid to address the global economic crisis. Since then, the G20 had to expand its agenda due to growing transnational problems such as armed conflicts, massive migration, anti-terrorism and, now, the pandemic.

Upon the call of the term president, Saudi Arabia, the G20 leaders held an online emergency meeting and announced some immediate actions. A joint statement after the meeting outlines the G20 road map under four main titles. On fighting the pandemic, the G20 countries have committed to expanding manufacturing capacity to meet the increasing needs for medical supplies and ensure these are made widely available, at an affordable price, on an equitable basis, where they are most needed and as quickly as possible. It has also scheduled a health ministerial meeting in April to develop a set of G20 urgent actions on combatting the pandemic.

The G20 has also decided to close the financing gap in the WHO Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan and provide immediate resources to the WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation (CEPI) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, on a voluntary basis.

On safeguarding the global economy, they are injecting over $5 trillion into the global economy, as part of targeted fiscal policy, economic measures, and guarantee schemes to counteract the social, economic and financial impacts of the pandemic. Finance ministers of the G20 nations will create an action plan in the coming period as well.

On addressing international trade disruptions, the G20 ensured the flow of vital medical supplies, critical agricultural products, and other goods and services across borders, and work to resolve disruptions to the global supply chains, to support the health and wellbeing of all people.

As for enhancing global cooperation, the G20 highlighted the fact that the pandemic could pose more serious risks to developing and least developed countries, and notably in Africa and small island states, where health systems and economies may be less able to cope with the challenge. It also singled out the risk faced by refugees and displaced persons, a concern on which Turkey has been trying to draw the world’s attention.

The EU, as an institution, is part of the G20 along with some most prominent European nations, Germany, France and Italy. A videoconference summit on March 26 has reportedly shown once again how the member countries are deeply divided even on an issue that threatens the entire world and European continent. Germany and Netherlands seem to block demands from the virus-hit Italy, Spain and France for the creation of what they call corona bonds.

Furthermore, the first weeks of March have observed the reluctance of EU countries in helping each other by either turning down requests of medical supplies or confiscating each other’s medical equipment in customs. Not only the EU’s crisis management but also solidarity and unity have obviously collapsed.

“We will do everything that is necessary to protect our citizens and overcome the crisis while preserving our European values and way of life,” read a joint statement after the meeting. What values will remain in the European continent after this storm passes will be seen in the coming period.