Does COVID-19 present a threat to the European bloc?

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To many of us, Brexit will now seem like a simpler time. Though it was a seemingly never-ending period of disappointment and catastrophe, at least, for me, the current global pandemic seems to have put it in perspective.

Let me take you back to that simpler time. As Paolo Gentiloni, Economy Commissioner of the EU and former prime minister of Italy, has recently warned of the threat the COVID-19 pandemic poses to the very existence of the European bloc. However, Europe may not need to come out of the other side weaker, as the EU may also have an unprecedented opportunity to make even Boris Johnson regret his stance on the organisation.

We are heading towards a very difficult financial period. The EU’s economy commission has stated that we (or is it they now? I’m not entirely sure how we left it…) have entered “the deepest economic recession in its history”. The economy of the entire bloc is expected to shrink by 7.5% in 2020, which is greater than what was experienced in the 2009 financial crisis.

As was the case in 2009, some countries will be hit much harder than others. Greece, Italy, Spain and Croatia, all of which rely heavily on the tourism sector, currently deadlocked, suffered badly in 2009. These countries are expected to see a decline in GDP of over 9%. Disproportionately, the economies of Germany, Austria and France are expected to contract by much less. There are further divisions regarding a recovery plan. The countries which will be affected far more are requesting grants of money to assist in recovery, whilst the larger and safer economies, particularly that of Germany, are favouring loans.

However, Gentiloni has stated that there is a positive way of looking at the impending crisis. This may be a rare opportunity to fix and adjust financial policies and fill in the gaps, hopefully preventing such discrepancy from occurring again. He was not entirely clear how exactly this would be done.

According to the Economy Commissioner, these measures, in particular the borrowing of money to protect jobs across the bloc, were discussed following the last financial crisis in 2009. In the end, nothing was done about it. Similarly, disagreements from before the crisis, such as the next seven-year budget, could be resolved. Despite this, it is unclear right now where the required €1 trillion will come from.

With discussions of the recovery plan still ongoing, it is unclear exactly how this crisis will be tackled. What is clear is that this could be a major turning point in its history. Now more than ever, multinational organisations and blocs should be working for the common good to ensure that we come out of the COVID-19 crisis together and stronger. This was the reason they were created. It is the reason many of us fought so hard to remain.

If this is in fact an historic opportunity, then the EU must take it, choosing to act united rather than divided. With Britain appearing more and more like a Chaucerian cautionary tale, the EU needs to prove that it will not fall back into the same practices which have seen growing discontent and movements opting to leave, not just here, but across Europe.

Lucy Slater

Image: Wikimedia Commons.