“We will never be the same, if the EU will”. Discontentment and the surge of bilateralism in the Coronavirus EraExternal Relations 29 March 2020
Covid-19 spread around the globe and the ambivalent reaction of the EU member States brought an evergreen argument back to the fore.
As usual when in times of crisis — economic, political, military or health crisis — the European Union goes on trial and the accusation is always the same: “lack of solidarity”.
“There cannot be a Union, if there is no solidarity among members” Eurosceptics claimed first, and an increasing number of citizens followed suite, all of them claiming for a stronger intervention by the EU institutions.
The post-Corona Europe will clearly be different from the past, mainly because of the full-blown incapacity of the EU of winning this challenge.
Since the beginning of this “New Course”, the Von der Leyen Commission had to deal with three major topics, all really close to the interest of the majority of the EU citizens. A Digital Economy, a European Green Deal, and now, the Coronavirus spread: these are the three main challenges the EU could not cope with properly. Even though the EU adopted useful documents, binding texts or guidelines, the EU managed to deceive the population of member States because of the lack of ambition of the EU outcome.
The bad things exceed the good ones, confirming that the European Union is not capable of effectively communicating the positive results it has lately achieved.
But not all is about communication and media. There is something deeper going on and that, along with the Coronavirus issue, came once again under the spotlight. This is the lack of solidarity among member States that is casting a shadow on every positive act of the EU institutions on the matter.
The Coronavirus revealed the physiologic weakness of our Union, torn between to opposite realities: the Union of the Institutions, positively acting in favour of the EU citizens, and the Union of the member States. States are afraid of losing their sovereign power, and this slows down the incremental integration process pushing until every common project is reduced, narrowed or lowered to a political not-at-all-appealing least common multiple.
Fragmentation and the absence of a common voice over the emergency toolkit — the so-called “Coronabonds” and the ESM Mechanism reform —, suggested the idea that the European Union is not doing enough for this outbreak. In the same way, the European impasse and the visible slowness of multilateralism are bringing back the bilateral relations that every and each member of the EU has developed with its allies.
So did Italy, when the country — the first of the Union severely hit by the outbreak —, appealed to the international community and got positive responses from China, Cuba and Russia.
This is likely going to leave an important mark in the Italian presence abroad and in the foreign policies of many other medium and small European powers. Member States seem now a bit farther from the EU and slightly closer to “new” allies who responded to the request for health cooperation and assistance coming from the centre of the old, not-so-solidal European Union.