Coronavirus and security in the European Union

Since a few months ago the coronavirus is a priority due to how it is affected the countries of the European Union (EU) beyond the social alarm that has been created. It is a threat that has become a reality sooner rather than later. From China, where the pandemic outbreak began, we were alerted to the serious impact that the arrival of the outbreak could have on the EU because of its disastrous effects. The Member States (MSEs) and the European institutions saw it as a fallacy that would never be consummated, but which has finally established itself, causing a serious health and economic crisis. The great lack of transparency received has even cast doubt on the real extent of the pandemic, as the governments of the MSEs and the EU have been hiding behind the perceived one, seeing and expressing how the damage that is actually being suffered is not known for sure.

The first manifestations as soon as the infections began to grow was the confinement of the population, a rapid measure that sought to contain the spread of the virus and thus be able to stop the number of people infected by the sanitary collapse that was approaching in most of the MSEs. This was followed by the closure of the Schengen borders, a wise and rapid decision to prevent flows of people but not of goods (however, it must be seen that the borders will hardly be the same as before for practical purposes). Although criticized, these measures have put a brake on expansion, since even though until a vaccine is available it will not be possible to eradicate it (totally or partially), they have allowed a positive development in the face of containment.

Apart from these actions, the European institutions did not act in the same way. The lack of a joint response highlighted the lack of cohesion between MSEs and institutions, with the latter showing signs of wear and tear. The silence of the European Commission is the most notable, only participating in the joint meetings and Von der Leyen explaining the limited progress made. Their talk of “coordinating a common response” is completely false, as joint measures and protocols for both health and economics should have been put in place from the outset in order to mitigate the effects as far as possible. The EU is guilty of using the verb to need, when the verb to use is to do. We only have to look at how the MSEs have had to buy all the health equipment individually, at high prices and with slow delivery for existing needs. The arrival of systems like rescEU or Coronavirus Global Response has been very late.

At times like this, the fundamental principles of the EU, those that brought us together in the beginning, would have to come to the fore in order to jointly tackle this crisis that is going to sink Europe. But all this is already too late: the north-south divide has widened, the lack of solidarity is latent, tensions have been fortified and the competition to see who has less infection and death has begun. All this must be seen as a strategy of the MSEs to seek protagonism and in which the EU has no presence. Some say that this crisis will consolidate the pillars and foundations of Europe, but nothing could be further from the truth: it will destroy them. Each MSE is going to look after its own citizens and interests, as we have seen in the case of the European rescue funds and the coronabons. Let it not be surprising to see more than one country decide to leave the EU in the wake of the British.

That is why if the EU cannot coordinate its own members, how can it be a relevant actor in the field of international security. It is impossible. It was not relevant enough when the outbreak began, and on the way to its end the same thing can be seen: that the EU is not prepared and the MSAs are in a race for “every man for himself”. The lack of foresight outside the economic sphere (because, yes, the EU is a club of stakeholders with trade and the common currency as its flag), will mean that we will never be an international player in security matters, or in any other area. Our lack of unity with examples such as the migration crisis of 2015 and our own tensions have already made the common project start to take on water, but now the dam is going to burst.

If these tensions and confrontations continue at this rate, this project, which is much more commercial than social, but which has brought so many positive aspects and progress, will end sooner rather than later. A clear example is Spain: without the EU, the position we have right now would be completely unrealistic. However, not everything is negative, we can see how MSEs has helped each other at this time with the sending of medical material and personnel. We could have contained the pandemic, but our own bureaucracy did not allow us to do so.

Although it sounds like a cliché, the solution, beyond pooling all the MSE policies and European resources in areas such as COVID-19 and the cessation of infection and death, is to give new strength to Sir Winston Churchill’s idea of the United States of Europe and to give value to a common solidarity that includes human courage and takes out national paternalism to coordinate us and see how much we are able to achieve by being under one roof. If this is strengthened, the EU will be able to rise from its own ashes, as these confrontations, grudges and tug-of-war between the MSEs themselves and the EU will end up very badly. Extrapolating from a Confucian quotation, with nuances, we are warned of what happens in situations of mutual destruction such as that which the MSEs are taking amongst themselves and towards the EU: “before embarking on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”. If the EU dies, we all fall.

Fernando Pérez-Montero

Junior Consultant at PROA Comunicación

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