The COVID-19 crisis and the come-back of the nation-state in Europe

by Tom La Fonta

The COVID-19 crisis and the come-back of the nation-state in Europe

While the Old Continent quickly became the first global focus in February in the COVID-19 pandemic, a disunited European Union was presented to the world. Indeed, while Italy, Spain, France and the United Kingdom organized strict containment of their populations demonstrating the ability of a democratic state to drastically restrict freedoms to fight the epidemic, completely different approaches were proposed in for example in Sweden and the Netherlands.  The coronavirus crisis seems to have hit European geopolitics because of a lack of supranational coordination in the fight against the virus. It seems that the nation-state has come out of this crisis stronger than the institutions of Central Europe because the states have taken their responsibilities each on their own side.

From Madrid to Paris and from Rome to Stockholm, the nation-state seems to be experiencing an incredible renaissance. Borders are back, and with them national egoism. The suspension of budgetary, the competition law, the re-establishment of borders and of the main liberties have given back to the European states all their capacity for action. "We are at war" French President Emmanuel Macron even declared during the lockdown talking about the fight against the virus. During the pandemic, Europeans were indeed comforted by listening to many statements from their leaders, while the European institutions did not seem to give citizens a strong political perspective.

At political level, the virus has allowed national leaders to return to the center of the citizens' attention and for some of them to sit a protective stature. This omnipresence of national politics is also correlated with daily television news that has never been more national, some would say regional demonstrating citizens' interest in subjects close to their direct concerns. Borders also seem to have become a reality again on the continent of the free movement of people and goods. Indeed, the various European governments continue to apply movement restrictions to their neighbours and the open borders are once again seeing police officers controlling entry and exit. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was able to revive his speech on border protection, which was put forward during the migrant crisis. This conservative response to the crisis, which can also be seen in Poland and the Czech Republic, is characterized by the imposition of particularly restrictive measures and a call for discipline on the part of the population.

A certain economic patriotism has also taken hold, even though one of the pillars of the European Union is based on free movement of goods and the internal market. Indeed, some national politicians also promised to free their State from dependence on imports of certain sanitary and food products and encouraged citizens to consume locally, demonstrating that foreign products were not necessary. A relocation of production was also argued by the most liberal governments.

A mistrust of some Southern European states in the face of a European Union that showed little solidarity during the COVID-19 crisis seems to appear, as in the case of Italy, the first European country seriously affected by the pandemic, where a certain anti-European feeling, already strong as a result of the migration crisis, is becoming increasingly present. Indeed, a survey conducted this summer by the think tank "More In Common" reveals a disenchantment of Italians with the EU, faced with a lack of solidarity on the part of their European partners. Thus, only 33% of Italians polled said that belonging to the EU is a good thing and 44% of them said that their confidence in the Union has declined with the crisis. This figure is one of the lowest in the European Union. The more a country feels abandoned or betrayed by its neighbours, cousins, and allies, the greater is the rallying behind the national flag. However, it is the country that will receive the most aid from the 750-billion-euro European recovery plan, which was difficult to pass unanimously by the European countries. However, the picture is not only negative. The majority of respondents in the same survey in the United Kingdom (62%), the Netherlands and Germany (57% in each of these two countries) say that the pandemic "has shown that most people in our country care about each other.” The covid-19 crisis has therefore not created new anti-European feelings in the zone but has shown certain weaknesses.

Indeed, although the EU went through difficult times during the health crisis, the ECB (European Central Bank) quickly announced many measures to ensure liquidity to help businesses stay afloat so that citizens could consume. Moreover, while the states promised financial aid not only to their hospitals, but also to their companies and workers, these promises can only be implemented if there is a common solution within the Eurozone and the European Union. The crisis initially seemed to relegate the European project to insignificance, but it has made Europeans realize that they share a common destiny. And the European Union now appears indispensable to raise the economies of the different States, but also to promote greater cohesion, particularly in health. While the construction of Europe has for too long been based on maintaining Member States prerogatives, this crisis today requires a new sovereignty to be invested at the European level as the President of the European Commission has presented during her speech on the State of the Union. For the future of the European youth.

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