The EU and a virus
What we call today the European Union was a visionary and challenging endeavor built on the calamity produced by two world wars. The first and foremost target of this new and unprecedented initiative was to create a common better future by making European nations interdependent and engaging them in some sort of a “one for all, all for one” solidarity. United, they would be strong. United, they would be able to stand against all challenges. Thus, the EU ever since its inception survived all the challenges and emerged each time from existential problems and came out each of them consolidating itself.
The political norms, values as well as the economic and financial standards, regulations it adopted over the decades helped creation of a sui-generis club of democracies that demolished between member countries customs, border checks and such “sovereign” landmarks. Those developments provided EU nations (as well as the European Economic Zone countries) freedom of movement of goods, labor and money, producing some sort of a “as if confederation” situation.
The partnership spirit created survived many tests. The rise of nationalist sentiments prevented progress towards deepening the club, while economic and political challenges stopped at a certain point the widening of it as well. Was Brexit a turning point? Probably because for the first time the territory, as well as the clout of the EU, suffered a humiliating retreat. Yet, those eager to see deepening of the EU integration and eventually transforming into a United States of Europe, or some sort of a formal confederation if not a federation, sovereignty-obsessed Britons abandoning the club might indeed be good omen as well. The EU was now expected to work on consolidation of its “partnership spirit” and of course evolving it to full integrity.
A tiny virus coming all the way from a Chinese city killed all such hopes and probably removed the keystone of the “EU spirit.” In the “Europe without borders” it became apparent immediately after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that nation states were not only as strong as ever but citizens and governments, as well as the institutions, of those nation states continued to be as egocentric as they were during the disastrous first half of the previous century.
At a time when the EU was busy talking ways of harmonizing all social policies, pensions, social state norms and values, first Italians discovered that EU partners were busy taking measures to defend themselves from the common enemy rather than rushing to the help of their comrades. That was a major disappointment for Rome, where in 1957 the main document of the club was signed. The Italian disappointment followed with the strong resentment Spaniards felt when they as well discovered that the EU commission and bureaucrats in Brussels, as well as the comrade governments in EU-member capitals cared less about “the others” and focused to serve their own citizens. France lived a similar disappointment as well.
Could an apology from the European Commission help soothe such strong disappointments? Could Italians or Spaniards forget that they lost the lives of so many beloved ones while other European allies were watching what was happening in their countries?
Yes, isolation of individuals was described as an effective and defensive move against the spread of COVID-19. But, no one suggested national isolation from allies and partners. On the contrary, these kinds of pandemic situations require solidarity. Unfortunately, the EU badly failed in that.
Will the EU manage to come out of this challenge consolidating itself once again? If it is in the best interest of all European continental countries to consolidate the “project for peace” the forefathers of the EU drafted, which I believe it is, the EU nations and governments will manage to draw lessons from the traumatic COVID-19-related ordeal they suffered and work to create a better partnership.