Jonathan Eida | Opinion
A time of crisis is not usually an accurate indicator of the quality of a governmental system. Very often, the best system for the majority of the time may need adaptation in times of crisis. For example, I have seen the argument being made on the Twittersphere that the Coronavirus outbreak has shown how the right turns to big government at their time of need and that this is a sign of some sort of hypocrisy. This is an unfair and flawed argument to make.
In a time of crisis, whether it be war or this virus, top-down leadership is required in order to produce a co-ordinated response. Nevertheless, this does not mean that, under normal conditions, a libertarian system is not fit for purpose. To use our current predicament as a template for the rest of our future is intellectually weak.
However, the virus has shown the reoccurring fragilities of other institutions. Coronavirus has exposed, in sharp resolution, the European Project’s innate failings and the ones that will not go away. There are several respects in which this has been seen to be true and they are worth analysing. Some of these issues may be dealt with by further expansion of the European Union’s powers, while others are root issues that will remain.
Perhaps the greatest problem facing the EU in the wake of the virus is the economic damage caused. Many of the countries in the EU, Spain and Italy in particular, have been greatly affected by the virus. Presumably, they and all the other affected countries, will turn towards the EU for monetary assistance. Whether they will receive any help is up for discussion. The fact of the matter is that this is the EU’s dirty little secret: it is not very secure monetarily.
Even before the virus spread, the two biggest economies, those of France and Germany, both had major holes in them. Last year, the German economy almost hit a recession. The country’s economy grew by 0.1% in the third quarter of 2019 after contracting in the previous three months. In addition to this, the growing threat of a trade war would further damage their economy. The value of total German exports – including services – is about 47% of the country’s whole economy, its gross domestic product or GDP. As for the French, their unemployment rate is over 8%, they have experienced sluggish growth and have a relatively uncompetitive market.
With all this in mind, it is very hard to see how the EU can support all the struggling European countries with mass bailouts. For one country to bail themselves out is far easier than one institution bailing out twenty-seven others!
Furthermore, the United States has also been hit by Coronavirus. They too, just like Europe, had a relatively strong approach to dealing with the virus. However, what they haven’t done is shut down state boundaries and prevent all movement between them. This is why the “United States of Europe” vision is doomed to fail. As the virus grew in different parts of Europe, countries shut their borders and the free movement dream was put on hold. Even the countries in the all-open Schengen Area closed up.
Now, the underlying issue demonstrated by the actions of these countries is clear: they do not see themselves as one unit, rather they still hold the nation state dear and will turn their backs on the EU at times of crisis. How can this union really work while countries still identify with themselves over the project? The only way the EU project could succeed is by further consolidating and federalising power until the nation states become obsolete. Whether or not the nation states themselves will be so willing to let go of their sovereignty is another matter.
In fact, it would have been expected that countries inside the EU would at least have some level of comradery, whereas what we witnessed was quite the opposite.
When Italy asked for urgent medical supplies under a special European crisis mechanism, no EU country responded. Fearful of its own shortages, Germany initially banned the export of medical masks and other protective gear. 3M, a producer, said the German restrictions had made it impossible to supply the Italian market. Not very nice, is it? The seeds of friction have been sown.
Another respect in which the virus has shown cracks in the structure of the EU has occurred before. Once of the principal failings of the Euro currency is that it is being influenced by multiple countries’ economic strategies. It is impossible to have a strong currency while it is being pulled by different puppet masters. With one country adopting an economically free approach and another a Socialist economic strategy, how can the currency progress?
A similar critique can be made of the countries’ strategies to dealing with the virus. After the virus first broke out, each country pursued their own strategies to dealing with it. Some strategies were more forceful and others less so. With most EU countries all being joined by land and an overarching governmental institution, it would have been wise to have a co-ordinated strategy. This half in, half out approach, with every country doing their own thing, can’t work – just like the Euro. Only further federalisation could make things more co-ordinated. We were wise not to join the Euro for this reason, and we were wise to leave the EU for this reason too.
Once again, all that Coronavirus has done is reveal some of the pre-existing problems that the European Union contains, not caused any new ones.