While the European Union is yet to firm up its response to the economic blight caused by a dreadful affliction, Angela Merkel put it succinctly on Tuesday when she acknowledged that the EU is facing the biggest challenge ever since its foundation. The co-relation between public health and the economy, both indices of human development, has seldom been so shattering.
The German Chancellor’s comments came as Europe enters a decisive week for its response to the virus, which has hit the area harder than any other continent. Ms Merkel has in the interim signalled her intent, indeed to strive for what she calls will be “more Europe, a stronger Europe, and a well-functioning Europe”.
While EU leaders will possibly agree on the use of existing instruments such as the euro area’s bailout fund to help finance the recovery efforts, a group of countries led by France is seeking to push through more radical measures to share the burden of the spending required to rebuild.
The president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has called for a modern-day Marshall plan for Europe while referring to the recovery programme put in place by the U.S. from 1948 to 1952 to help Western European economies after the Second World War. The suggestion is a measure of the economic crisis that plagues Europe.
The continent, contending as it is with Britan’s exit from the economic bloc, is said to be in the eye of the global storm over Covid-19. Four of the six countries with the maximum number of confirmed cases are in Europe. Yet the European Union, as an umbrella entity, has seemingly been relegated. Small wonder it has been remarked that its most important common principles have been “scattered to the winds”.
When the pandemic struck, it was the nation states that stepped up their respective efforts, not the EU. The states of Europe closed their borders, acutely aware that coronavirus or any didease for that matter knows no frontier. On their part, citizens have been looking overwhelmingly towards their own governments, following their governments’ advice, not that of the EU. National leaders’ public ratings have risen in many countries. In Europe’s shared adversity, Europeans have become what they call ‘nation-statists’ once more.
Geopolitics has been mirrored alongside the borders. In March, when the EU closed its collective external border to the outside world, the union’s common travel area collapsed, and member-states closed their national borders within Europe.
When France and eight other EU members demanded the setting up of a Europe-wide “corona bond” debt instrument to help the worst-hit nations, the northsouth divide deepened. Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland turned down the suggestion.
Solidarity in Europe is at a discount. Where does Europe stand as a geographical expression? This is the moot question at an exceptionally critical juncture, i.e. when the planet has been jolted to its foundations.