Open the Easter eggs. They did it!
After two torturous weeks of wrangling, EU finance ministers agreed to a number of joint financial measures to protect workers, businesses and the poorest EU countries during the coronavirus pandemic.
These safety nets, as the EU calls them, amount to 500 billion euros. This is separate from the 750 billion euro bailout already announced by the European Central Bank.
EU leaders are also talking about an additional stimulus fund (up to an additional € 500 billion, if the French succeed), which countries could then access once the health crisis is over and attention would turn to the European economies battered by Covid-19.
“Our faith in Europe has proven to be correct!” tweeted Italian President of the European Parliament David Sassoli triumphantly as soon as EU finance ministers announced the deal.
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He is therefore right: is all dory now in the EU? The dark mumbles of deep divisions banished?
The EU is stumbling through this crisis as it has done through previous ones like migration and financial crises. The bloc is not about to disintegrate, but scars will remain in the countries that felt the cold lack of EU solidarity when they needed coronavirus.
“This is not our best time,” said a diplomat from an influential EU country. “Our response came late and was marred by nationalism. Solidarity went out the window with the first victim of coronavirus.”
The diplomat spoke of the initial refusal of France and Germany to export medical protection equipment, which forced Italy to beg for some.
He complained of damage to the entire single market as EU countries closed their borders to each other in order to protect themselves from the spread of the virus.
Then there is the recent ugly and very public debate over the sharing of coronavirus debt. Spain and Italy demanded it, in the form of coronabonds. Germany and the Netherlands, richer and more cautious, gave a no.
Again, each country has given priority to national concerns regarding the EU as a whole. Understandable, but hardly a child of the poster for European cohesion.
The Italian Prime Minister demanded that the coronavirus debt be shared among the member states. If he did not do so, he knew he would be attacked at home by populist nationalist politicians.
Basically, Giuseppe Conte must have realized that Germany and the Netherlands would never say yes. They also face populist Eurosceptic MPs at home. They would have been defamed for having written a “blank check” with taxpayers’ money to finance Southern Europe with all its perceived economic weaknesses.
Is the EU therefore adapted to its objective?
It depends on what objective. If the main objective of membership is to be part of the lucrative single market, then yes, the European Union is living up to its objectives.
But if it is a one-for-one and one-for-all union, then the EU’s coronavirus crisis has failed.
Of course, the emergency package announced by EU finance ministers (yet to be approved by EU leaders) is by no means insignificant. It will be hosted in Italy and Spain.
Germany may no longer be looking for or forcing solutions to EU crises, but it was praised and applauded for hosting Covid-19 patients from Italy and France and for sending fans to the UK. Romania is one of the many countries to send teams of doctors and nurses to other EU countries in need of help.
When efforts multiply, in a globalized and unpredictable world, most EU members think that it is better to stay imperfectly together than to be alone. No member of the EU is serious about leaving.
But, the Covid-19 crisis could have been a key moment to prove that the opponents are wrong. Instead, EU actions have so far fueled the Eurosceptic debate.
EU leaders have another chance to show solidarity when it comes to rebuilding European economies after the end of the health crisis. It is in their own interest. The reputation of the EU and the strength of the single market depend on it.