Covid-19: EU’s Failure & Nationalists’ Gains
By Kate Kennedy ,European /North American Editor
Have you noticed the significant incidents in Italy, Spain, France, and other European countries? No – not the Coronavirus, but what is happening in front of our eyes politically because of the Coronavirus. In case no one has bothered to show this to you on the television or social media, I will tell you point-blank what is starting to show: nationalism.
Let us back up a bit before we explore this more. The European Union was created from the Common Market which was an idea put into place after the Second World War. The Common Market took away taxes and tariffs on goods over national lands in Western Europe.
From the success of this program, the concept of the United States of Europe came to play. This project made union states European Citizens – nations which were generally the wealthiest – gave the great Euro currency, and everything was supposed to be fine. They proclaimed “We are together!” and Europeans walked around the world with the strongest currency on earth.
As an American, I asked my European friends many questions about The Union – rules, regulations, the social contract between the citizens and the state, whether the European Union actually is a single nation and if not, this must be the goal, etc. They pushed aside my questions and somewhat arrogantly told me the only reason I was concerned is that Europe is now stronger than America.
Needless to say, this did not answer my question about the part where it seemed that previous nations had become states within the European Union without the direct understanding of the European public that this took place. I was concerned and they were not. The end.
Fast forward 15 years to Brexit. The first nation to vote to leave the European Union was asking the same questions I asked: Who are these people in charge? How did they get this job? What is the goal of this Union? Who are “we” in this Union? What decisions are you making for us? Where did this flag and anthem come from?”
I am not British nor am I here to take a stand for “Stay” or “Leave”, I am only telling you that these questions came thick and fast to the European Union Committees (I admit I do still wonder how one gets these jobs since they do not have a direct democracy going on but that will be a different article…). In the end, the United Kingdom left. So that was that.
At this point, if you are running the European Union, you probably want to pay attention to this exit of a major power and show the rest of Europe that they benefit greatly from the social contract in place. You know, the contract that says “You pay us and give us power to make decisions and in exchange your citizens get so-and-so benefits”. This would be advantageous considering the recent rise up in France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, and nationalistic parties popping up and winning seats all over Europe. But no. You can always count on the European ruling class to make the wrong decision.
These days, I am a dual Italian-American citizen so I live and vote in both nations. Not too long after my citizenship, the Coronavirus hit Italy. Referring back to the advice above that anyone with common sense would give to the European Commission, we would say to them “This is it! This is your moment European Union! Show them what you’ve got!”
So…Italy closed down flights. The European Union says nothing. Italy needs more masks and medical personnel. The European Union does nothing. The Italian President and the Prime Minister address the Italian Republic directly on television. The European Union does nothing. Italy’s economy drops 5, 11, 15%. The European Union does nothing. Finally, some commissioner from the European Commission makes a short video that says “We are all Italians”.
Do I need to say that this does not cut it? Then some days later the European Union came out and told Italy that it is allowed to raise their national debt maximum. In short, the EU told Italy it can take more debt out on itself. Basically, “You are on your own guys!”
Is that what a union of states does to help one another? Can you imagine Canada, Mexico, Russia, The United States, or any other solidified and legitimate union of states doing the same?
Then as Italy began to fall to its knees and then the most amazing thing of all happened: the EU comes out and says it will give Italy 25 billion Euros…and it will let Germany use 550 billion Euros. I was never good at math, but I am sure there is a several hundred billion Euro difference.
Why does one nation get so few when they have more Coronavirus cases than in all of Europe and the other nation gets a crazy amount more with fewer cases?
While I sat stunned with this news, I began seeing something I had never seen before take place in front of my eyes. Italians hung up flags outside and were waiving their flags out their windows. They started singing the Italian national anthem every evening with their neighborhoods. Italians looked out their open windows and clapped and cheered for Italy. For anyone who has not been to Italy, you can almost never see signs of patriotism or the flag anywhere. Meanwhile, the European Union flag is nowhere to be found.
Something is on the move. The European Union made the wrong call by not making major decisions like other real union of states would do in the face of the crisis. They did not band together, they did not close borders, they did not close flights or airports, there was no public service campaign on how to control and protect oneself from the virus, there was no equal or thoughtful distribution of funds.
Now I look at the television and notice something Europeans from the West to the East are doing in broad daylight. They have retreated to what is known, what is legitimate, what is comfortable, what is historical, who they believe is there for them, and who they feel they are. They have retreated into being separate nations, not states within a real European Union.
When all the dust settles after the virus passes, I predict that the nationalist parties will use the behavior of the European Union officials to continue to undermine their legitimacy and will continue to rally for referendums to separate.
Average European citizens will also remember the non-action, unfair monetary treatment, and likely inherit a major recession.
And why, this time, would they not give a second look at separatist, nationalist parties? The European Union leadership really should have thought of that.