Europe is at war. It’s a war with an invisible enemy, a war our leaders tell us we must all play our part in and yet, despite the fact that we share the same foe in this life and death battle – COVID-19 – it feels like this war is starting to tear the EU apart.
Yes, the European Union was slow to react, which is understandable when you think about it. The coronavirus was initially a health emergency, something which falls mostly outside of its competences. Also it was – and still is – affecting different countries at different rates. That makes a centralised, uniformed approach difficult – even the United States is struggling to cope.
But what is keeping officials awake at night here in Brussels is the strain it’s putting on solidarity. Different countries are taking wildly different approaches. Belgium lashed out at the Netherlands (over its initially lax measures). Denmark is perplexed by Sweden’s approach. Italy is downright angry over a lack of agreement on economic recourse and, well, everyone is thoroughly annoyed with Hungary’s Viktor Orbán.
Right now though, it is that anger in Italy, Spain and elsewhere that should worry EU leaders most. Many feel let down, abandoned by the Union. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte didn’t mince his words recently: “We must avoid making such tragic choices in Europe. If Europe does not show itself to be up to this task, the whole European project risks losing its raison d’être in the eyes of our own citizens.”
Italy’s Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, echoed the call for action in an interview with our correspondent Giorgia Orlandi: “This global crisis is an enormous responsibility for the European Union. We are at a crucial time for the European Union and as always, when faced with unforeseen challenges, we need extraordinary measures.”
These are tough times, leaders are making difficult choices and if they feel like they have been let down, they will remember. If the EU fails in its task, people will remember. That’s why the stakes for those here in Brussels are so high. It’s a test they can’t afford to fail.
Darren McCaffrey is Euronews’ political editor.
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