COVID-19 & confinement : opinion

Coronavirus: What now for Europe ?


In a time of deconfinement, a look back at the responses that the European Commission has developed to protect citizens from the pandemic.

Interview with Quentin Michel, a European Politics Professor within the Department of Political Science.

What is your analysis of the current situation ?

Our generation is the first in Europe to have lived in a large area without borders. However, the pandemic, and its consequence – confinement - deprives us of one of our fundamental freedoms: that of moving around without hindrance. This has had a great impact on companies, as well as on individuals - how do cross-border couples manage?

Clearly, our globalised system has reached its limits and will have to be rethought.

Indeed, I am one of those who believes that degrowth is not necessarily an absurdity. On the contrary, the unbridled race for growth is leading us "straight into the wall". The logic of Supply Chain Management, which is based on a globalised fragmentation of production players, is showing its limits. The national reflex to stop exports in the event of a supply crisis is an illustration of this, as we have seen in the pharmaceutical sector in recent weeks with the shortage of masks and certain medicines.

And Europe...

Faced with the health crisis, the reflex of states was initially nationalistic. Indeed, some serious abuses have been observed, with special powers being granted to the executive for an indefinite period by the Hungarian parliament, for example.

Fortunately, in my opinion, European logic will enable us to emerge from the crisis. Unlike Jacques Delors, I am not pessimistic in this respect because Europe is taking action, and we aren’t saying this enough (even though Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, is making a concerted effort with regards to communication).

The European Union, which, let’s not forget, can only act within the powers granted by the member states, has freed up more than 3,000 billion euro to deal with the coronavirus crisis, which is affecting all its members. The EU is funding research, promoting European solidarity, and taking measures to protect Europeans.

The next big challenge: the budget ?

There is talk of a deficit of billions of euros after the crisis. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, stressed the need to increase the capital of the European Investment Bank. Other proposals are on the table, one of which is "Eurobonds", which are euro-denominated bonds that would be issued not by national governments but on behalf of the EU.

More or less similar mechanisms were put in place during the Greek crisis in 2007: member states acted as guarantors to borrow against the markets, allowing Greece to have access to capital at much lower rates. Today, the European Union could act as a guarantor for European states in order to finance the recovery. That would be a first, because the rule that has prevailed until now has not allowed the EU to borrow.

However, the multiannual budget is due to be renegotiated this year for the period 2021-2026 (which explains the British haste to leave the EU in 2020). With what rules? What priorities? This remains to be defined... much like the modalities of deconfinement.

This will have to be considered on a European scale, otherwise it will make no sense.

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