COVID-19 is killing the EU. This patient may not recover

People are fed up, and angry. They have been told for decades that the future lies in "Europe". Every single day of this awful pandemic proves that "Europe" is nowhere, and they can only rely on the nation state. Support for the EU in Italy has dropped 20 percentage points, and is barely above 50%. There's a storm brewing in Europe, and we'd better be ready for it

The faltering flags of disunity
Tim Hedges
On 16 April 2020 08:10

Here is the news from the European Political Project.

On Easter Saturday, more than 40 people were arrested in the Brussels district of Anderlecht, for rioting and causing damage to a police station. One man stole a gun from the police and fired it at them. The immediate cause of the riot, the death of a young man trying to evade police controls, was not, everyone agrees, the underlying reason.

People are fed up, mistrustful and angry.

A surprise poll in France shows that fully 75% of people think Emanuel Macron’s government has been lying to them about coronavirus and a majority will not download his new contact app. Mr Macron has been accused of playing off Italy against Germany. He is trusted neither by his EU colleagues nor by his own people.

In Frankfurt groups threw stones at Police and broke the windows of their vehicles; whilst in Gersheim on the French border immigrant French workers were attacked, and abused for bringing the coronavirus into Germany.

The Pope warns that how Europe handles the coronavirus will determine its future.

What Italians call ‘Lo Spread’, the difference between Italian and German borrowing rates, has widened to 2.2% having, in better times, been under 1%

Finally, again in Italy, a poll for Tercé shows approval of the EU at 51% wanting to remain, down 20 points on last year.

So, what is going on here? Have people got cabin fever, do they want to let off steam, or is it worse?

The key, perhaps, is what people expect from Europe. They are asking: why have they got this disease? Why are they locked up at home? Why can’t they go to their jobs? What is Europe’s solution to this helpless feeling?

The economic cause for worry is that the widening of Lo Spread is a sign that investors are not expecting a joint European response to the Coronavirus problem. They are having to assess each country individually as opposed to the EU as a whole; and of course Italy doesn’t look good.

Italy’s Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, sounded like the good egg he is when giving an interview to British TV. The policy, he said, is, irrespective of cost, to protect lives. When an investor hears that, he hears that a country with debts already far too high was going to ‘do whatever it takes’. Without help from stronger countries, the numbers don’t add up.

Health itself is not of course part of the acquis communautaire, the empire of Brussels. Individual countries have different health systems, differently funded and of varying qualities. But most people I have spoken to assumed Brussels should at least have been responsible for the planning and protection against a Europe-wide pandemic. It was clearly nowhere near ready for what happened.

And outside the financial world, most ordinary people assumed Brussels would be responsible for getting the EU back on its feet once the effects of the lockdowns had been felt. For all EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s talk of "trillions", much of it is leveraged on loans from existing institutions, and with conditions. The Commission is manifestly not ready to play its part: each country must do its own thing.

So all the peoples of Europe know that it is each for himself. ‘Sauve qui peut’ is the order of the day. Everything they have invested in politically since 1957 has finally proved paper thin. Whereas in Britain or America the people can look to their governments to do the right thing and care for them, in Europe their beautiful future of togetherness is going to cast them adrift.

With the Coronavirus, as with so much else, Europe is returning to the concept of the nation state.

That is why Belgians are stealing guns from the police. That is why the people of Gersheim are beating up Frenchmen who might be diseased. That is why Italy, one of the founding countries of the European Project, is 50/50 on it now.

They have been sold a lie.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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