The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health emergency that in less than six months has brought the entire world to a screeching halt. From the deserted streets of Milan to a state of total lockdown all across Europe, one thing remains certain; the leadership of the European Union as a whole has failed.

The complete lack of coordination amongst member states and endless politicking has resulted in a state of chaos. Over in Italy, the government’s complete and utter failure to take decisive action has led to the collapse of one of the world’s finest healthcare systems. With hospitals literally overrun with the sick, medical professionals have been worked to the point of exhaustion.

In some regions, patients above the age of 80 have been left to die due to the severe shortage of ventilators and a need to allocate resources to care for patients with a higher chance of survival. It is necessary not to take this pandemic superficially, like someone gambling on online casinos.

Granted, the COVID-19 pandemic may be unlike any other crisis that has hit the modern world, however it is not an excuse for lax border controls and a lackluster approach to crisis management. Despite efforts taken to curb the spread of COVID-19 and the introduction of various economic stimuli intended to bolster the economy, all of this may in fact be simply too little too late. Here are some of the reasons why.

An Issue of Debt

Debt and issues of cash have always been a contentious issue for the European Union. Now with the global pandemic growing increasingly out of control, finance ministers across the union have been going through the possibility of issuing a half-trillion stimulus package to pull their economies out of the slump.

While the plan was met with enthusiasm, when it came time to pass the proverbial hat around, most of the wealthier states i.e. Germany and the Netherlands baulked at the prospect of having to subsidise their poorer southern members namely Spain and Italy.

This brought about an immediate halt to negotiations with many divided over the joint issue of these so-called “Corona Bonds”. Being stifled as they are makes it nearly impossible for any decisive action to be taken which is an unfortunate side-effect of the EU’s highly integrated nature. The bloc’s failure to lend a hand to its most affected members is sure to further foment discontent and tarnish the EU’s reputation on the global stage.

The Looming Refugee Crisis

Refugees have long been a hot button topic for politicians in the EU and Britain. Initially, refugees were greeted with open arms with heartwarming images of locals putting up banners welcoming them. However, the sudden influx of more than 1 million displaced people spilling across European borders has resulted in widespread unhappiness amongst many member states.

In the wake of border clashes between Turkey and Syria, President Erdogan’s country has opened up the path for refugees seeking asylum in Europe. While Greece refuses to allow refugees to cross over its borders, the current situation places EU leaders in a tight spot having to choose between appeasing Turkey and managing Russia’s influence in Syria. Given the cramped and unhygienic conditions of refugee camps, millions will have to be spent sheltering and feeding them. Along with this, a sudden influx of travellers into Europe could result in the further spread of COVID-19 across Europe.

A Case of Nation versus Union

In times of crisis, solidarity is key to success with member nations expected to work together with one another as part of an end goal. This unfortunately will require the sacrifice of some degree of autonomy as was often highlighted by pro-Brexit supporters. In Italy for example, where Chinese investors have been gradually but steadily acquiring Italian businesses, immigrant labourers from China make up the bulk of the workforce.

During the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in China, Italy was slow to react and failed to block incoming flights from China. Consequently, during the Lunar New Year when most workers returned to their hometowns to celebrate, they imported the virus back into Italy. From then on, inaction on the part of the government resulted in the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 throughout Italy and Europe. By delaying the decision to close off borders, the virus was allowed to spread at an unprecedented rate. Despite being one of the largest and wealthiest economies in the world, decades of complacency and politicking have resulted in the EU embarking on a possibly one-way road with no way out.

This article was first published on the Bruges Group website, and is republished with permission. You may not use, copy, distribute, publish, syndicate, sub-license and transmit the whole or any part of such material in any manner and in any format and/or media without the permission of the original publishers.

Picture by European Parliament – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Link. Picture cropped.

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