Undoubtedly, decisions made during the Coronavirus pandemic will affect the stability of the European continent. Foreign aid is coming to Italy from Russia and China while neighboring countries struggle to allocate a budget to support the public health care system that’s barely holding up. While doctors try to remain positive and hopeful, Italian prime minister Conte is openly dissatisfied with the lag in European solidarity.
A slow reaction to Coronavirus
The seemingly careless and uncoordinated response reveals a lack of unity within the EU. While Chinese authorities exerted poor control over students coming from Wuhan back to Milan and other Italian cities to attend classes after the New Year’s holidays, they are not the only actors to blame. Knowingly, Italian, as well as many other European officials, failed to take precautionary measures in time. The detailed airport checks started late, and the passengers from infected areas weren’t put in quarantine at first.
Europe’s slow reaction might have been, in part, due to the previous experience with epidemics and the way they took a toll. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014-2016, although much deadlier than COVID-19 with an average fatality rate of 50% compared to coronavirus’ average 3.6%, was soon isolated and stopped.
Former outbreaks seemed like a problem that could never happen to us. Take anthrax, swine flu, and Zika for instance. To us in Europe, they sounded almost like urban legends from afar. We know firsthand now, that our position of privilege compared to developing countries allowed us to look away.
Some argue the confirmation the WHO got from the Chinese authorities this January saying the virus doesn’t spread through human contact explains the delayed reaction. Others say it was the comparison to the common flu, – a clear minimization of the virus.
Perhaps most fear of another Great Depression? Many European economies were doing badly even before this financial challenge.
Consequences for the EU’s stability
“The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It’s very easy to say yes.” – Tony Blair
The EU has practiced a Blairesque approach when it comes to providing aid for Italy. The worst seems to have passed for Italians, or that’s just what we conclude from the lower number of reported cases. This still doesn’t cancel out the fact that Europe wasn’t there when support was needed the most.
“It’s during the worst storms of your life that you will get to see the true colors of the people who say they care for you.” – Unknown Author
Italy has already criticized the other member states in the past for not sharing enough responsibility. The Italian economy has been strained by the migrant crisis for years. Even though the EU offered financial help, this problem rested on one nation’s shoulders, while Austria, France, and Switzerland rushed to close borders, EU didn’t help. Instead, they showed leadership by saying no.
Help from Asia
China, the country that let the disease spread to the world in the first place, is being seen as a benefactor right now, and this assistance is enhancing bilateral relations. How will it affect the stability in the EU after the lockdown ends?
Russia, too, flew in professionals and supplies to aid Italy in the worst weeks of the fight against coronavirus. Even though this move was communicated as answering the cry for help, many note this could help Russia gain the diplomatic advantage in Europe.
In 2020, Italy is in lockdown struck by one of the worst epidemics in history. Instead of the EU, they’re getting the majority of support from China and Russia. Similarly to the migrant crisis from a couple of years ago, the EU Commission jumped in to help with a significant delay. Italian prime minister Conte replied this help should not be only financial, but also political and social, because it should show the unity and the values of the EU that go beyond the economical benefit.
Member states in session
The French president was one of the first to show modern comradery through kind words of support to the Italian nation. Whether this promise of support will remain on empty words of the president Macron, or whether the EU will show concrete support to their southern neighbor, only time will tell. While Italian officials continue the negotiations over the Coronabond, one thing is certain. Italy still has a more urgent matter on its hands. The questions of EU stability will be discussed once the worst is over.