More and more people have recently begun talking about the end of the European Union.
Moreover, while many observers used to cite Brexit as a sign that the European Union is on the brink of collapse, it is now clear that Brexit was just one of many blows the EU has been dealt, which has been suffering with underlying problems since it was established: Foreign Policy lists political fragmentation, a lack of “hard power”, dependence on the United States and unfavorable demographics.
According to the Financial Times, “Fortress Europe is an illusion”.
French daily Le Figaro writes about the economic, migration and health crises that are bringing European countries to their knees, highlighting that the European Union and the entire system of globalized countries are teetering on the edge of disaster.
Not only American media outlets, but the Turkish press and many European media outlets have noted that there was even a visible lack of political unity at the recent Munich Security Conference, the largest meeting of politicians and officials responsible for joint security policy, and they have also noted that many Europeans are now feeling a sense of disorientation.
“Frustration is growing in the EU,” concludes the French daily Libération, adding: “In fact, apart from France, there is not one political force in the EU that would like to form a European power, or even preserve the European Union in its current form. Eastern and Southern Europe are only interested in European money, while the North is interested in the advantages of a large market and the Euro. But once everyone thinks that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages, they will jump ship without a second thought. To put it concisely, we must answer this question: was Europe just a project of the late twentieth century?”
The explosion of the coronavirus pandemic has not only exacerbated intra-European problems and contradictions, but it has also strengthened the centrifugal force of processes within the EU. Despite talk of “solidarity” in the ranks, the EU failed miserably in helping Italy fight the coronavirus pandemic, a clear demonstration of how the European Union has taken a turn for the worse.
Let’s not forget that amidst the growing pandemic, the Italian government appealed to the EU and even to US Defense Secretary Mark Esper to help them fight the spread of the coronavirus, as Italy clearly did not have enough essential equipment and hospital beds to treat everyone who needed to be hospitalized. Struggling to cope with the pandemic, Rome set a great deal of its hopes on the possibility of assistance from the European community. If assistance cannot be provided in times like these, then why should countries pay so much money to stay in the EU, and why should they take orders from supranational structures which sometimes clash with national interests? However, Brussels blatantly brushed them aside: it is the Italians who have contracted the virus, so they can take care of it themselves.
In this situation, Italy and the Italian people have become the ballast of “United Europe” and its politicians sitting in Brussels. We will never know what the policy from Brussels could have led to, had the Italian calls for help not been heard by China, Russia and a number of other non-EU states, who responded as quickly as they could.
In dealing with the coronavirus crisis, the European Union has shown its true colors, writes the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. A Chinese cargo plane carrying 31 tons of medical and humanitarian supplies touched down in Rome on March 12, a sign of the European Union’s failure. Further evidence of this was heard on the evening of March 15, when Italy’s empty streets and squares were filled with music, and it was not the anthem of the European Union, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, that they were singing, but the Chinese national anthem. EU countries have yet to show themselves in a good light in their response to this crisis. The restrictions impulsively imposed by the German and French governments on the export of protective masks and medical devices while Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio was crying out for help did not go down well in Rome. They have probably got the message that all the talk about European solidarity in times of trouble is just empty words, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung points out. “It is a bad omen that Brussels has abandoned the most seriously affected country to its fate at this early stage of the epidemic,” states the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
In a telephone call on March 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed to Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte that Russia is ready to help Italy battle the coronavirus. And by March 23, nine Russian Air Force military transport planes had already landed in Italy with mobile teams of virologists from Russia and equipment for diagnosing the virus and disinfection, which were set to work straight away. Italians shared their impressions of Russia’s response on social networks, as they were completely taken aback by how quickly Russia was able to transfer a large number of forces and funds overnight.
“Russia responded to the coronavirus emergency in Italy with lightening speed, and came to the rescue faster than the EU countries, who have forgotten about the European partnership they promise each other in agreements. By the looks of it, Europe will be reassessing its priorities after the pandemic,” wrote the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
As the German Frankfurter Allgemeine notes, Italy received help in its fight against coronavirus from Russia and China before its European neighbors stepped up, which means that the Italians will know who their real friends are going forward, and they will think more highly of these countries than they did before. However, the German newspaper also raises the following question: why are expressions of solidarity and mutual assistance now a rarity between European countries in the fight against the coronavirus?
Many French newspapers have written about the aid Russia sent to Italy, as they had previously written about aid from Cuba, Venezuela, India, and China. In the comments section, French readers write: “China and Russia are really doing everything they can to help the Italians, Serbs, Czechs, and Belgians… whether you like it or not, Mr. Trump has done nothing for his European partners…”. “Apart from Russia and China, India has also sent aid to Italy, as well as Cuba, which sent 50 doctors.”
There is no European solidarity. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić made the following announcement on the evening of March 15, which was reported on tut.by: “I will not draw any political conclusions yet, but by now we have all understood that European solidarity does not exist. That was a fairy tale on paper.” This was what the Serbian President had to say about on the EU’s ban on the export of medicine and medical equipment due to the coronavirus.
“The crisis that began in France in connection with the coronavirus epidemic has exposed many weaknesses in the country’s health system, pharmaceuticals, and the health of French society is clearly deteriorating,” writes Le Figaro. Moreover, this is not only a typical remark to describe the situation in France!
The coronavirus pandemic has heightened racism in many European countries. In the Polish city of Łuków in Lublin Voivodeship, for example, there was a shocking attack carried out on a 59-year-old Vietnamese woman. Sticks were thrown and racist slurs were shouted at her: “Go back to * * * * * * * China!”, “You coronavirus-ridden so-and-so!”
This virus has not only failed to unite European politicians, it has also deepened people’s awareness of inequality. The quarantines being imposed in these countries reflect starkly different realities, where on one end of the extreme, there are people who do not have the social and medical protection they need, and on the other end, there is the polar opposite, rich people who have the luxury if choosing where they live and where to “self-isolate” themselves. “It is not true that the epidemic is the great equalizer of all people. Wealthy people are flying on private jets, renting yachts and enjoying the benefits of VIP medicine — not like all the other poor people,” the German press highlight.
The EU will therefore have to make some serious changes in order to focus on the needs of its citizens. Otherwise, according to Le Figaro, the EU will have nothing to protect itself from the wave of xenophobic populism that is already turning the virus into a political weapon of mass destruction.
The coronavirus pandemic will test the EU on a scale which may even surpass Brexit, the 2008 European sovereign debt crisis, and the migrant crisis of 2015.
Valery Kulikov, political analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.