Analysis: #EU is Late on COVID-19
Analysis: EU is Late on #Covid – 19
By Kate Kennedy,
European and N/American Editor
Growing up, my grandfather used to say to me that “Sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade”. He also said of people who were unreliable flakes and disappointments that they were “A day late and a dollar short”. Using the wisdom of my grandfather, let us together call a spade a spade: European Union, you are a day late and a dollar short.
I am stuck in mandatory quarantine in Italy. Italy has been brought to its economic knees from the Coronavirus. Reading online news from CNN and other networks, I do not think the big picture of what is taking shape here in Europe is being presented in a logical enough way for outsiders looking in to understand the situation unfolding. I feel obligated to help make sense of this because we need to define the reality if we are to make honest progress. Let’s take a look at what is really happening.
Honesty Time Fact One: The European Union has completely dropped the ball in their Coronavirus response to Europe. A week or so ago, the European Commissioner came out and apologized to Italy for not responding weeks ago. Huh? You are the lead government for the Union and you are “sorry” that you did not respond sooner to the Coronavirus crisis? It has already been a month of suffering and you are simply apologizing? Being an American-Italian citizen, I cannot imagine the United States President showing up weeks after a natural disaster, pandemic, or economic collapse of a state and saying “I am sorry I did not respond sooner.”
This apology also only came after the Italian Prime Minister was on national television demanding the European Union in Belgium give Italy the money it needs or that he will find another way to obtain the cash. Prime Minister Conte was genuinely angry and emotional in his plea. I watched as Italians disgustedly shook their heads at the television and thought that I cannot blame them. But, the boondoggle continues to another level.
Honesty Time Fact Two: The Commissioner announces that Italy can take money from the European Emergency Fund. This is the fund that all the nations of the Union annually give money to that if in case there is an emergency economically, with infrastructural, or with a major natural disaster, for example, that the nation can go to the collective pot and take what they need. This sounds on the surface like a solid institution built for the common good of the European states. The Commissioner announced that Italy would be allowed to take the same amount of money Italy has put in from the collective pot and use it for this emergency. For a day or two, the Italians were breathing a sigh of relief. And then it happened: Italy got notice of the “requirements of contract” for them to take the money. The deal is defined simply as “You can take the money you need, but then you must pay it back with compounded interest”. Wait – say that again? “You can take the money you need, but then you must pay it back with compounded interest”.
Yet another jaw-dropping moment for the European people to see. The Union has an emergency fund for all the nations, but they need to pay back the money they take during a crisis… with interest? Does that make any sense or sound like what a legitimate union of states would do? Of course not! I cannot imagine a crisis hitting Vancouver and the Canadian government saying “Sorry we are weeks late, and sure, we here at the federal level have the money you paid but you need to pay it back to us with interest”.
Nonsense. This is the same agreement that was put in place during the time of the Greek economic collapse and under these rules, Greece has never economically recovered. I watched then as the Italian people rose up and shouted that this was not fair and how can this be right? Then to rub more salt in the wound, the most powerful woman in Europe, Angela Merkel of Germany, said that she is positive the Mafia is waiting for some of that money Italy wants to take.
If at this point any of us were still pretending that European nations see one another as equals, this comment from the Chancellor of Germany is a sure sign that they do not. A union that does not believe in one another is bound for tearing at the fabric of what kept them together.
Honesty Time Fact Three: I mentioned in my previous article on the crisis that the rise of nationalistic ideology was beginning to show. Every week I see more and more Italian flags hanging outside of windows but no European Union flag anywhere except on government buildings. I hear young people singing war songs from World War ll out their windows and older people clapping. But now there is another turn of events I do not see covered in the news: Europeans in France, Spain, and Italy are burning the European Union flag and posting it on social media. Flag burning is never a good sign as it is the start of a process to disrespect, delegitimize, and take down whatever the flag being burned represents. All of this is taking place while the news stations have the European Union flag in the background of their broadcasts and the individual governments fly their national flag side by side with the European Union flag at government structures. The disconnect between the people and the institutions is becoming more and more apparent. My observation here on the ground is that there was some skepticism and discontent in Europe about the European Union before the Coronavirus crisis, but the failure to act and the inane rules for nations to receive the help they need has created new contempt towards being a member of the Union at all.
The built-in flaws, legitimacy questions, and issues of togetherness of the European Union are bubbling to the surface on what seems like a weekly basis. In only one month, separatist and nationalist parties are gaining dozens of useful examples to use to break away from the European Union.
And I ask, why would the people of these countries not give another look at this once seemingly far-fetched idea to part ways with the Union?