In the calendar, 2020 was marked as a celebration year for Europe, although hardly a victory parade.
Today, Europeans celebrate the 75th anniversary of ‘Victory Day’, the defeat of the Nazis in World War II. On Saturday, the EU commemorates 70 years of the Schuman declaration, the nucleus of the European project.
Behind the scenes, the year started with heated discussions over petty differences on the EU’s seven-year budget; the continued struggle to agree on a new relationship with the UK; and Europe witnessed its continued decline trapped between a confrontational US and an assertive China.
But the coronavirus has brought back dark memories recently reserved for the history books and speeches. War-like language has spread among leaders. The European economy entered a free-fall like never before in peacetime. And solidarity among Europeans fell to new lows.
The world we knew crumbled before our eyes. “The coronavirus pandemic has ended up blowing up the multilateral order,” said EU top diplomat, Josep Borrell.
In Europe, the pandemic is threatening the only asset untouched by past crises. The Great Recession almost blew up the euro. The migration crisis inflicted a serious wound to our space without borders. The virus is now rapidly degrading our single market, for many the crown jewel of European prosperity.
The single market is incomplete in services and many other sectors. So was the monetary union (a fiscal union and proper banking union are still missing), and our border-free area lacks a common migration and asylum policy.
Europe wasted recent years achieving only meagre results on most of these fronts. And now the coronavirus has hit them all.
But the consequences for the single market could be particularly dreadful for thousands of firms and millions of workers across Europe, but also for the future of Europe.
Member states have imposed export restrictions on their EU partners and authorities reinstated border checks. Although the Commission has mostly solved these issues, a more deadly threat is looming.
Not all member states have the same deep pockets to save their companies. Germany is responsible for more than half of the state aid approved by the Commission. The situation could worsen once the EU executive further weakens state aid rules to support firms in the coming days.
“We risk destroying the internal market,” warned Borrell.
The EU executive is wary of these dangers. As part of the recovery plan, the Commission is working on a new shield to protect solvent firms in countries with weaker finances. But resources should be sizeable for the new instrument to rebalance the single market.
Anniversaries are fertile ground for fine speeches. European Council President Charles Michel rebaptised on Friday Europe’s recovery strategy as ‘De Gasperi Plan’, giving up the ‘Marshall Plan’ he had eagerly used before.
As the virus is putting at risk our health and testing our societies like never before since World War II, Michel set new goals for Europe.
“A caring society, where individual well-being and collective well-being are fundamental to one another – let us make this Europe’s new horizon, let this be what we direct our energies towards,” he said on Friday on the occasion of ‘The State of the Union’ event, organised by the European University Institute of Florence.
This Brief’s author is also very fond of big narratives and well-worded speeches. But Europe does not need more empty slogans, it needs the ambition to save their achievements.
Europe has struggled to come closer over the past years. EU institutions and member states should now guarantee we at least don’t drift further apart.
Make sure you stay up-to-date with everything to do with coronavirus across Europe’s capitals with EURACTIV’s comprehensive overview, regularly updated with the help of our pan-European network of reporters and media partners.
The European Court of Justice is the only legal body able to determine if an EU institution violated bloc law, the Luxembourg-based tribunal said, as the fallout from the German Constitutional Court’s European Central Bank ruling continued.
For the newly established European Public Prosecutor’s Office to be a real game-changer, it must have sufficient financial resources and enough full-time European delegated prosecutors to conduct independent investigations in the member states, chief prosecutor Laura Codruța Kövesi said in her first exclusive interview in the new position.
EU must go “back to the future” of open borders after COVID-19 “as soon as possible”, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told EU lawmakers as the European Commission wants member states to start gradually lifting national border controls.
Since the attempted coup in Turkey in summer 2016, the number of asylum applications by Turkish citizens in Germany has increased significantly.
Lawmakers in the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee have signalled their disapproval at the UK’s participation in a fingerprint data exchange scheme with EU member states after the country’s decision to withdraw from the bloc.
Car renewal schemes aimed at boosting the automotive industry and the wider economy during the virus recovery period are likely to be linked to climate targets, although the actual effectiveness of such programmes is still a matter of debate.
At least 10% of land – considerably more than the current 3% – will have to be declared “strictly protected areas” under a new EU biodiversity strategy due to be unveiled later this month.
Look out for…
- Foreign Affairs Council (Defence) on Monday-Tuesday
- EU-UK trade talks continued
- European Parliament’s Brussels video-session
Views are the author’s