Will Coronavirus Accelerate the EU’s Demise? | Miles Holder
We’re living through extremely challenging times. Extremely challenging because we are seeing a health pandemic that is impacting the lives of everyone, leaving a tragic trail of death and shock in its wake. One that no expert is completely sure how best to respond to. One that has had the biggest temporary curb of our freedoms in recent memory, forcing us to stay in our homes whilst this goes on. Whilst we are mostly confined to our homes for the meantime, eventually (we hope) things will return to some sense of normality that we had before the outbreak of coronavirus.
One part of that normality lingers on. In 2016, the United Kingdom voted for Brexit, and will become the first country to leave the European Union. It was a vote to put the interests of the United Kingdom first, to once again control our own destiny in the world. The process of leaving itself is quite a radical move in relation to conservatism, but the return to full national sovereignty is an inherently conservative idea; nation states should have full control of their sovereignty and be able to retain that.
Since that vote, the question has arisen as to whether more countries will follow the United Kingdom in leaving the European Union. Alongside this question runs another: whether the European Union will collapse entirely in the future. These are questions that will be true in the future, and just a matter of when, not if.
This isn’t the first major test for the viability of the European Union. It was threatened by the debt crisis in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash. With subsequent bailouts to the countries of Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Cyprus almost bankrupting the European Central Bank and causing citizen uproar in response, banks closed and governments were replaced; but the European Union continued onwards.
The outbreak of the coronavirus has exposed a vital flaw in the European project of a single European state, where the end goal is for separate nation states and their unique cultures to merge into one hegemonic state. The dilemma that has presented itself for them in this outbreak is as follows. Can it really respond economically and politically in a united manner that is sufficient for each member state? What has followed so far ultimately suggests otherwise.
We have seen the biggest Eurosceptic response in Italy. Already with a recent history of Eurosceptic governments, Italians are furious at their plight of being ignored and over resistance to corona bonds, and a sense of betrayal is deepening. Mayors of towns are tearing off EU flags from their town halls; Italian citizens post videos online of them burning the EU flag; even once-pro-EU politicians in Italy have admitted that the tide is turning against the EU, and that membership is at stake if they fail to respond. This isn’t surprising when Germany and France have refused to send medical equipment to Italy and the EU have fined the Italian government for providing aid to hotels in Sardinia. There are already signs that Italian faith in the EU has been damaged. In a survey conducted recently by Tecnè, 67% of respondents said they believed being part of the union was a disadvantage for their country, up from 47% in November 2018.
In a wider European Union perspective, they have failed so far to agree a bailout package for member states, which may be impossible to agree upon considering that France is heading towards a historic recession. To complicate matters further, the EU’s top scientist Mauro Ferrari has also resigned as a result of a failure to respond to the ongoing pandemic, lambasting their approach and no longer supporting the EU. Tusk has also stated that this is a far bigger threat to its future than the bailout crisis.
We are yet to see how this plays out within the EU in relation to coronavirus, but the early indications suggest that it’s going to be a period of turmoil for the European Union. If Brexit is the beginning for the European Union’s demise, then the aftermath to the coronavirus could very well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Photo by Nicolae Sfetcu on Flickr.