Global Europe Brief: Pandemic Economics

Welcome to EURACTIV’s Global Europe Brief, your weekly update on the EU in the global perspective from our foreign affairs news team: Georgi Gotev and Alexandra Brzozowski.

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RESPONSE STRUGGLE 

With 455,901 reported coronavirus cases and 32,778 deaths across Europe as of Thursday (1 April), according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the emergency measures imposed by the EU and member states to tackle the crisis are starting to take shape.

A €100 billion corona-fund, a new EU instrument for temporary Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE), has been unveiled to support workers in countries that have been hit hard by coronavirus, such as Italy and Spain.

However, the EU27 are at odds how to address both the shortage in medical equipment and the economic fallout and have postponed taking a decision on the introduction of ‘corona bonds’ as a joint instrument for tackling the consequences of the crisis.

While the worst crisis-hit countries Italy and Spain urgently demand ‘corona bonds’, Germany, the Netherlands and Austria say this would breach the EU’s no-bailout clause, which stipulates that the EU and individual member states cannot be held liable for the debts of other member states.

“If we are a union, now is the time to prove it,” Italy’s PM Giuseppe Conte urged.

“The priority is to save human lives. Lives cannot return. Debts are repaid or even written off, as was the case after the real war, in 1953. But lives are not coming back again,” former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras meanwhile wrote in a recent op-ed.

The discussion threatens to deepen North-South rifts inside the bloc at a time where solidarity between member states is hanging by a thread.

IMAGE OF THE WEEK | Pope Francis delivers an extraordinary ‘Urbi et Orbi’ blessing – normally given only at Christmas and Easter – from an empty St. Peter’s Square, as a response to the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Vatican, 27 March 2020. EPA-EFE/YARA NARDI / POOL

EU IN THE WORLD

OPERATION IRINI. The EU will launch its new naval mission to enforce an UN arms embargo on Libya by April, but it still needs to be determined which member states will contribute to the operation, the EU’s chief diplomat Joseph Borrell announced. The new mission got the green light after clearing last-minute objections over migrants picked up during Irini’s operation.

FIRST TRANSACTION. The EU-Iran trading mechanism INSTEX, designed to allow Europeans to bypass US sanctions and continue trade with Tehran, has successfully concluded its first transaction, likely to deepen the resentment between Brussels and Washington.

MIGRATION VERDICT. Poland, Hungary and Czechia failed to fulfil their legal obligations under EU law when they refused to participate in the relocation system for refugees in 2015, the European Court of Justice ruled.

DEBT RELIEF. The coronavirus pandemic may not, yet, have wreaked the same havoc as in Europe and North America, but most African countries have imposed nationwide lockdown and curfews. African finance ministers want the EU, the IMF and the World Bank to support a multi-billion debt relief programme for the continent to avert economic disaster.

‘SILENT SLAUGHTER’. Murderous attacks on Christians and ethnic minorities by the Fulani and Islamic terror groups in the northern regions of Nigeria have been going on for close to two decades, leaving more than 60,000 dead. But little has been done by successive Nigerian governments, or by the international community, to tackle and defeat the terror groups. In a Special Report, EURACTIV’s Benjamin Fox explores what Europe’s role in stopping Nigeria’s ‘silent slaughter’ could be.

DEFENCE CORNER

CBRN THREATS. As Europe grapples to find a response to the coronavirus pandemic, Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has criticised Europe’s lack of preparedness against biological threats. But while NATO’s preparedness in the field has received less attention than other threats in the past years, the strength of the military alliance’s COVID-19 response is in coordination.

BETTER PREPAREDNESS. Health, global security and international stability are inextricably linked. And our globalised, urbanised and politically fragmented world has never been as vulnerably to pandemics as it is today. Munich Security Conference chairman Wolfgang Ischinger and Merck CEO Stefan Oschmann present five points that are critical in order to be better prepared for situations like these in the future.

THIRTY MEMBERS. North Macedonia became NATO’s 30th member this week, following the completion of its ratification procedure, in another blow to Russia’s hope of maintaining its influence in the Western Balkans, where Montenegro and Albania have already joined the alliance. In reaction, Moscow issued a scathing statement.

RESURRECTION PANEL. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced the creation of a panel of 10 experts to determine NATO’s future and how to revive the ‘brain dead’ alliance following French President Emmanuel Macron’s infamous criticism last autumn which took many NATO members by surprise. Effectively, the panel is to determine how NATO can play a stronger political role and avoid public displays of dissent as seen around last year’s NATO summit in London.

TERRORIST CONTENT. The European Council and Commission are under pressure to make headway on rules to stamp out online terrorist content, the substance of which could provide a precedent for the upcoming Digital Services Act, an MEP involved with the matter told EURACTIV’s Samuel Stolton. As part of the rules, online platforms would be obliged to remove flagged terrorist content within a one hour timeframe, in addition to potentially introducing ‘proactive measures’ such as upload filters.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

NEIGHBOURHOOD AID. The EU announced nearly €40 million to help Western Balkan countries and a further €140 million for the bloc’s ‘eastern partners’ to deal with the pandemic, after Brussels came under fire for not doing enough for its neighbours.

However, disinformation campaigns surrounding the ongoing health crisis is feeding into the narrative that the EU is “turning its back” on the Western Balkans, the EEAS said in an updated report, writes EURACTIV’s Vlagyiszlav Makszimov.

TARIFF DISPUTE. Outgoing Kosovo PM Albin Kurti has said that the his government has decided to annul tariffs on imports from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. But the head of the Serbian government’s Office for Kosovo, Marko Đurić, denounced this as fake news and urged the public not to fall for it. The details on the dispute are from EURACTIV Serbia’s Julija Simić.

EURASIA DIGEST

UNRECOGNISED ‘ELECTION’. The authorities of the internationally unrecognised breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh are holding presidential and parliamentary elections amid international criticism and despite the coronavirus pandemic.

US ELECTION WATCH

It’s 215 days until the US Presidential Elections and the Democratic Convention is scheduled to take place on 13 July. However, as the country is still likely to be weeks away from the peak, delays are likely and could raise questions about how the election process will be played out.

What to watch and why it matters: Something surprising is unfolding amid the finger-pointing and war-gaming about the coronavirus threat to America: A general consensus is forming about the next 60 days of wait and pain, writes Axios.

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS…

The regular institutional cycle has temporarily ground to a halt. But we’ll continue to keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as operations start to move exclusively online.
  • Foreign Affairs Council
    | Friday, 3 April 2020 | videoconference
  • Foreign Affairs Council (Development)
    | Wednesday, 8 April 2020 | videoconference

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