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Has the EU failed during COVID-19?

Written By: - Date published: 5:16 am, April 10th, 2020 - 20 comments
Categories: covid-19, Europe, health, International, science, Social issues - Tags: , , ,

In yesterday’s post, I lambasted US President Donald Trump for his attacks on the World Health Organisation (WHO) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Global governance plays a considerably important role in the modern world. And during a pandemic having a coordinated international response is utterly crucial. For this reason, defending these global governance institutions is vital.

At this time, global governance bodies have an important responsibility. Therefore it is crucial that they step up to the plate. Sadly the European Union (EU), Europes Regional governance body appears to be failing in this task.

Two days ago the president of the European Research Council Mauro Ferrari resigned from his post claiming he had “lost faith in the system” due to the EU implementing an “uncoordinated cluster of initiatives” in response COVID-19. EU officials have hit back at this saying Mauro’s claim saying he was conducting a public relations exercise in attacking the EU’s response and called into question his own contribution.

Mauro Ferrari resigns from his EU post and has spoken out against the organisation’s response to COVID-19.

There has also been criticism that the EU hasn’t done enough to cushion the economic blow from the pandemic. The feeling in some quarters is that EU member states are being largely left to fend for themselves with inadequate coordination or planning for how Europe will recover from this crisis. This said such criticisms could be seen as premature at this stage when we still don’t know how deep the economic crisis will be.

Most government structures the world over are struggling during this time. And it would be easy to throw stones at an institution like the EU that has many detractors. Britain has spent the last 4 years trying to leave the EU, which my blog has discussed earlier. Those who supported Brexit would of-course point to the EU failings during this time. Conversely, EU supporters would point to failures of nation-states like Britain to react quickly enough to the crisis and argue that a Europe wide approach which included the UK would be more effective.

It is easy enough to throw stones during this time. What is much harder, is trying to stop the spread of a deadly virus that we still know little about. The time to really assess our response as a society to this pandemic will be after it has passed.

For global governance structures, this is an important moment. This is the chance for them to demonstrate their worth and coordinate the response. In many ways how these structures respond becomes more important than the response of nation-states. This also is where the deficiencies and shortcomings of such organisations become very apparent. The noise coming from the EU in the last 48 hours is far from reassuring.

The EU structure is a finely balanced attempt to be a United States of Europe type structure, which at the same time also gives considerable autonomy to its 27 members. In reality, this tends to mean that stronger states like Germany dominate, and smaller states do as they are told. This leads to resentment and political backlash. The result of this is there is often a reluctance to step on member state toes by EU.

During a pandemic, having 27 nations with varying degrees of adherence to scientific and medical advice on how to act is not appropriate. Ideally, the EU would have stepped up back in January and coordinated the response to COVID-19 across Europe. This couldn’t happen effectively with the current EU structure.

Things will be very different after COVID-19. For the EU, this could be a real turning point. This could be a time when member states decide to overhaul EU structures and give the organisation more power and direction. Or, it could be the start of a painful demise. Decisions in the coming days and weeks could well decide the EU’s fate.

20 comments on “Has the EU failed during COVID-19? ”

  1. Carolyn_Nth 1

    I haven't watched the EU or Brexit that closely. But, I have thought the EU is in decline, with Brexit being just one symptom of it.

    It has always been a problem that the German government/state, and wealthy elites (financial elites?) have exerted more power than other states in the EU eg compared with Greece, and other Southern European countries.

    Covid-19 is exposing a lot fractures and failings internationally – financial bubbles brought down to earth by some material realities they can't easily control.

  2. Ad 2

    Pretty unfortunate timing for such a post.

    The EU just agreed to a massive set of measures – for which they are all in agreement – to respond to the crisis:


    All the finance Ministers of the Eurozone have agreed to make €500 billion available "immediately" to stimulate the EU economy as it struggles with the economic fallout of the ongoing pandemic

    Germany's Finance Minister Olaf Scholz praised the decision as a "great day of European solidarity."

    He said that the plan provides "three strong answers" to the crisis, including aid to small and mid-sized businesses through the European Investment Bank, short-term work programs for the labor force, and loans to affected states through the European Stability Mechanism.

    I strongly suspect this won't be the end of the EU responses either.

    The 2008–9 crisis was still ringing in their ears.

    Far from being frail or finely balanced, the EU is doing now precisely what the UK isn't.

  3. bill 3

    Greece has actually reacted quite well. Italy and other places… not so much.

    I can't see any de-facto merit in having a co-ordinated EU response. What if the top/down decision had been Italian, Spanish or British in flavour?

  4. RedLogix 4

    The EU has been in trouble for a long while. Pretty much from when they introduced the Euro in 2002 to try and carve out a chunk of the reserve currency game for themselves. That was the tipping point which had the US asking themselves why bother with NATO anymore?

    France more or less built the EU in order to contain a resurgent post WW2 Germany, but they badly miscalculated … the German banking system finished up dominating it anyway.

    But the Germans are now way overextended; their aging population means their economy depends on exports of their expensive, high quality goods across the whole globe, just at a time when all the props that hold up that system are either rotting or being kicked away.

    The EU's internal decision making process is appallingly slow and inefficient, which means they cannot react to changing circumstances easily. Italy, Greece and Spain must now be close to failed states and it's no longer clear if they can even recover. Turkey is going to go it alone, Erdogan will increasingly assert a Turkic cultural and military hegemon in the region.

    France is about the only substantial nation in the EU positioned to thrive in the next decade; the outlook everywhere else is grim.

    • Treetop 4.1

      How many more countries will do a Brexit?

      Can the EU remove a country from being a EU member?

      What will the terms be for the UK Brexiting?

  5. Paddington 5

    The EU lost it’s way decades ago. It really is a lost ship looking for a reef.

  6. Muttonbird 6

    Britain's done no better.

    Even their leader got it.

    • Treetop 6.1

      I think Boris and those who voted to leave the EU have escaped further restrictions which would have been enforced by the EU.

      It is going to be interesting to see how the EU manage the fall out from Covid-19.

  7. Marky 7

    I think the UK is regretting Brexit now – the German Army just donated 60 ventilators to them but they are still over 10’000 short.

    a crisis like this shows that being part of any International partnership can be helpful as you get support from your partners when times get tough.

  8. Incognito 8

    The United States of Europe have failed no more so than the United States of America. Just saying.

    • Poission 8.1

      Overweight with lines of control and overburden.Like an aircraft carrier turning into the wind vs KZ7.

    • ScottGN 8.2

      Not a terribly high bar to clear though eh?

      And perhaps prospect of the fracturing and break up of the latter is no longer quite the far fetched idea it might once have seemed.

      • Incognito 8.2.1

        No, of course not. The Q, for me, is what do we learn from this and how do we try to improve things. When ‘new things’ are being rolled out, in politics, they are usually modelled on ‘old templates’. Combined with a lack of courage and imagination, it is not surprising we usually end up with variants of status quo (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose). Dear I say it, MMP is an example and repeated reviews and recommendations have been largely ignored or watered down (diluted to homeopathic levels). Or we simply change back to the previous state, like some kind or restore function to previous settings on your electronic device.

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