In a new series of guest editorials focusing on the future of the European Union, Julie Pelcé and George Penn from Volt Luxembourg argue that acting together against an overt public health and economic threat would set the EU in good stead to solve other key impending challenges.
For the first time in a long time, European citizens are faced with a common threat that they can tangibly understand. Covid-19 has united us all in our concerns for our loved ones, our worries for our jobs in an uncertain economy, and the curtailing of our freedoms that we have come to take for granted. Your experience of Covid-19 is uniquely lived, but not dissimilar to that of your neighbours living across the continent. We need to act together to find appropriate solutions to these shared problems.
The European Union--at its core--has always been an institution that strives to put the future first. It is an organisation that accepts a common past in violence and crisis, which has decided to move towards a prosperous future together. Europe is built on a common goal of peace, only reachable through unity and solidarity between nations.
Although unity is the essence of Europe, it has failed to act together in times of crisis. The 2008 financial crisis poured fuel on the fire of the North-South divide, and gave populist Eurosceptic parties a foothold in the political landscape. In the 2015 refugee crisis, certain countries took matters into their own hands and assumed responsibility, while others were left to fend for themselves, because no joint approach could be found.
While Europe might have survived as a Union, it needs to learn how to act together in crisis.
Ghosts of these crises re-emerged in the early phases of the pandemic. Governments--as accountable for the safety of their citizens--have put national interests first, creating frustration and miscommunication between countries. In the early stages, countries denounced their neighbours for prioritising masks for their healthcare systems and not pooling their resources. National Governments shut and reopened their borders independently, with no clear unified or coordinated plan. The words and actions of national politicians inflamed tensions and divisions between North and South. These actions will continue to affect long-term relationships between neighbouring countries.
George Penn, former president of Volt Luxembourg
Photo: Volt Luxembourg
Europe’s fate is tied together. We share a common market and common currency which means that if one national economy falls, the rest of Europe will shoulder the economic burden. In this interconnected system, none can be left to fail alone, so we must recover and prosper together. Member states need to reinforce their belief in the Union to ensure joint prosperity and act as one to face a threat as global and consequential as Covid-19.
Unity in Europe does exist and has been effective these past few months. Countries have opened their hospital beds to their neighbours most in need. Ventilators, masks, and personal protective equipment have--after a readjustment period--been shared between countries where healthcare is usually a closely guarded national competency. Investment in research and knowledge sharing has been a united and global effort.
Covid has opened a window of opportunity to think beyond our national borders and the European Union is the framework that can make this type of unity sustainable.
Europe has the structures in place already to ensure a reasoned middle ground is reached to fight this global crisis. It offers a regulatory framework which enables it to take into account all national interests and give answers to the common problems of European citizens. The impact of the Covid-19 crisis is affecting and will affect countries’ economies in diverse ways, but a coordinated response can and should be initiated by the European Union and its institutions. Pooling resources from countries with greater means and less affected by the crisis in order to redistribute to countries more in need, can easily be done at the European level. When solidarity and unity are present, the European Union is the ideal stakeholder to propose solutions but more importantly to act.
If we act together now, against such an overt public health and economic threat, it sets us in good stead to act together to solve other key impending challenges. Racism, human rights abuses, transgressions against equality, and, most notably, the ongoing migration crises and the climate emergency, are not issues that can only be tackled in national silos. These common challenges are uniquely felt, lived and experienced in every local context, but can so often be tackled by best-practice sharing, trust, and collaboration across borders, transcending languages spoken and perceptions held.
Covid-19 may be the first of many crises on the horizon, but only a united Europe and a world that acts in sync can solve these shared challenges. It’s undeniable that we are stronger together, no one wishes to fail alone. So, let’s strive for more European unity.