The time for European unity
Written by Filippo Maria Margheritini, President of the European Horizons chapter at Pepperdine University. Published as part of the Pandemic Policy Series, dedicated to exploring European and transatlantic policies and experiences during this unprecedented time in global politics.
In the past few years there has been a shift in global politics. A shift that is affecting our international order. Regional conflicts have continued across the world: unaffected by media coverage, or intervention by wealthier countries. Democratic systems are struggling to decide how to approach these different crises. The European Union and its member states have deeply suffered from a lack of resolve and shared political vision in recent years. The mishandling of migration flows into Europe, without a sustainable united approach, underscore the fact that this Europe is not yet mature. Whether because of populism, bureaucratic jargon or something else entirely, the EU has failed to meet the expectations of the moment. In the current crisis, it is of the utmost importance to prioritise unity and solidarity within the Union, in order to overcome this challenge and emerge stronger than before.
We are currently facing a global pandemic, and the most astonishing crisis of a generation. Politicians and media have often referred to the fight against COVID-19 as a war. They highlight the shocking similarities to war-time measures, such as government-enforced lockdowns and phone tracking operations that are drastically affecting our lifestyles and daily routines. While I disagree that the current pandemic should be labeled as war, I do believe the scale of COVID-19’s repercussions will be similar. Our society and international order will be re-defined, and the decisions currently being taken — by both international and domestic political actors — will shape political structures for years to come.
In the midst of this unprecedented situation, the European Union is struggling to find its path, and to be a point of reference for member states and the global community. Although there have been small measures of collaboration thus far, on a larger scale Europe has failed to come together with policies that will create lasting unity. Solidarity among member states thus far has been shown through several initiatives, such as: donations of masks, the shipment of medical equipment, and the transfer of Corona-ill patients across borders to alleviate pressure on impacted hospitals. On a wider level, there has been regional coordination to find a cure; utilization of the European Central Bank to buy national bonds; agreements on border closure, and repatriation of EU nationals. However, the Council of Europe has failed to find an agreement on common economic policies: revealing the fragility of the EU’s fragmented leadership. Although the Eurogroup seems to have found an agreement, the implementation of that agreement will still remain a complicated and delicate process.
Towards the end of World War II (at Yalta) the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union took the global leadership role in finding a solution to end the conflict. Those countries then went on to shape the world order for more than half a century. In much the same way, countries that provide the path out of this pandemic in epidemiological, social and economic responses today will have prominent roles in shaping policies concerning trade, macroeconomics, development and political lines tomorrow.
I do not mean to downplay the complexity of the decision-making process that derives from such a critical moment. However, in the past decade, we have witnessed growing instability, rising fears and a significant lack of a shared leadership across the continent, especially on issues such as a common asylum policy. This time the EU cannot afford to fail in addressing crisis. Mario Draghi, the former President of the ECB, is calling once more for EU leaders to do “whatever it takes,” and rightly so. Although the concerns about the economic matters at hand are understandable, European leaders must swiftly address them; matching the urgency of the issues that this unprecedented pandemic has brought upon us. If the European Union fails to deliver in this situation as a united entity, the EU will not be taking a seat in this century’s Yalta. In this case, not only will we lack credibility and authority to shape the future international order, but we will also witness further fragmentation and hostility within the European Community. We cannot afford to let this crisis further divide and destabilise our community.
Wary of the even grimmer outlook we may face in the aftermath of COVID-19, the European leaders must come together. This is the time for European Unity. This is the time to make the EU the lighthouse that so many are looking for in this storm. This is the utmost priority: maintain the Union.
Cover photograph: Reuters/Y.Herman; in Deutsche Welle, 2020