Global Europe Brief: Pandemic Fears

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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Fears are growing that the coronavirus outbreak in China could grow into a pandemic with disruptive and deadly consequences for countries around the world. The World Health Organisation has said countries around the planet should prepare for a “potential pandemic” as about 40 countries are now affected by coronavirus and around 81,000 infections have been registered (as of 26 February 2020). As the virus continues to spread across Europe, new cases were recorded in Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece and Spain. Poland denied an alleged case but did not rule out it might be affected soon.

Most were linked to Italy, where the authorities have been struggling to contain an outbreak that has infected more than 500 people and spread from its original epicentre in the north to the country’s south. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte warned that the economic fallout could be “very strong” but also said he was confident the contagion would come under control soon.

The EU’s Health Security Committee projected on 24 February a “moderate to high” risk of more new coronavirus clusters like those in northern Italy. European Parliament staff recently visiting northern Italy have been asked to stay home.

As the EU and many of its member states are taking precautions to stem the spread of the virus, there is, however, no direct scenario for Schengen’s suspension due to coronavirus, Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič told EURACTIV.

Meanwhile, the cases are piling up across Asia and into the Middle East, spreading locally, even from people who weren’t exposed to China. While Brazil’s health ministry reported the first known case in Latin America, the US is also bracing for a serious coronavirus outbreak.

At the same time, many observers fear the epidemic will affect the global economy and cause major economic damage due to production losses, disrupted supply chains and a decline in consumption. The European Commission said it will be “flexible” with Italy and other member states affected by the virus when assessing their efforts to balance their public accounts, VP Valdis Dombrovskis told EURACTIV.

How to prepare against Coronavirus? Should you work from home? Cancel your vacation? The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has you covered in its medical guide here.

IMAGE OF THE WEEK | Tourists wearing protective face masks visit St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, 24 February 2020. [EPA-EFE/ANSA]


AFRICA STRATEGY. As European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen plus some 20 Commissioners travel to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for a joint meeting with their African Union counterparts, a leaked draft obtained by EURACTIV reveals that the EU will seek to put a series of policy-themed ‘partnerships’ at the heart of its EU-Africa strategy which will be formally launched in early March.

GLOBAL BRITAIN. The EU and UK formally agreed their negotiating mandates for talks on a new trade and political partnership, setting the stage for a bruising battle on regulatory standards. In the meantime, UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised a sweeping ‘overhaul’ of the UK’s foreign policy in a bid to outline “new opportunities to define and strengthen Britain’s place in the world”. The year-long policy review will be a chance for the government to add more substance to its promise of becoming “Global Britain”, EURACTIV’s Benjamin Fox reports from London.


BUDGET CASUALTY. The European Commission’s latest budget non-paper threatens to hamper flagship defence initiatives more than previous proposals. While the new proposal includes a reduced budget for the EU’s space programme, one of the other most affected areas would be the EU’s defence portfolio, where funds for military mobility could take the biggest hit. France, the most vocal proponent of more investment in the EU’s common defence and security, is not the only country to be displeased by the proposed cuts. Alexandra Brzozowski took a closer look.

VIRUS THREAT. Speaking of mobility, the current coronavirus outbreak in Europe threatens to become an issue for Europe’s upcoming military exercises DEFENDER2020. As the virus spreads in Europe, US military is bracing for a possible spike in cases in Germany, which might put thousands of troops on lock-down or restricted movement across the continent.

EUROPEAN SPY NETWORK. Twenty-three European countries signed a letter of intent for the Intelligence College in Europe based in Zagreb, completing the creation of a network of intelligence agencies on the continent where EU intelligence communities are meant to converge further through training, education and exchange. EURACTIV Croatia has all the details.


UPPING THE CLIMATE GAME. Montenegro and North Macedonia have both pledged to cut emissions and put a price on pollution, as new initiatives in the two Western Balkan countries aim to align climate policies more and more with EU norms and standards, writes EURACTIV’s Sam Morgan.

EU IS LATE. The EU’s role is indispensable in efforts to reach a lasting peace in the Western Balkans, Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci said at the Brooking’s Institute, adding that Kosovo is free and independent, but for Kosovo to become a success story the country needs to be integrated into the EU and NATO. Thaci warned that the trust in EU institutions and the EU’s influence in the region is diminishing given that the EU is late in dealing with Kosovo and the Western Balkans region, EURACTIV’s Zeljko Trkanec reports.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor for a Hague-based court has raised the first indictments over alleged war crimes committed by Kosovo guerrillas during a 1990s conflict. The EU-backed tribunal was established in 2015 to investigate crimes by independence-seeking ethnic Albanian guerrillas against mainly Serb civilians during the 1998-1999 war.

DOMESTIC DEBATE. After publishing an op-ed by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, arguing that Serbian democracy is under attack, we have received several rebuttals by the Serbian opposition, which you can find herehere and here,


‘SELECTIVE JUSTICE’. Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is fighting a court decision to have him brought in by force for questioning by the State Bureau of Investigations (SBI). Poroshenko’s lawyers and his party said this latest development illustrates what the West calls “selective justice” in Ukraine.

BLACK SEA APPETITE. Increasingly grandiose Russian military exercises in the Black Sea, compounded by the impending water crisis and a burgeoning defence industry in the Crimea, indicate that the security situation in Southern Ukraine may soon deteriorate, Ukrainian experts from Crimea warned.

GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE? Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signalled a potential reshuffle of his government that local media said could include axing Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk in favour of businessman and veteran politician Serhiy Tihipko.


It’s 250 days until the US Presidential Election and the Democrats made a showcase of friendly fire in a messy last debate before the Super Tuesday on 3 MarchHere’s a quick run-down how of the main talking points.

What to watch and why it matters: The virus factor. So far, the virus is still very much under control, but a poor response to the coronavirus could be politically devastating for US President Trump as Washington is preparing for a serious outbreak. Trump named VP Mike Pence to coordinate the government’s response and downplayed the danger, telling reporters, “the risk to the American people remains very low.” Trump’s statement came after two days of contradictory messages from government officials about the dangers posed to Americans by the virus.



  • Informal meeting of EU defence ministers
    | Wed-Thu, 4-5 March 2020 | Zagreb, Croatia
    On the agenda are European defence initiatives, crisis in the neighbourhood, countering hybrid and cyber threats and EU-NATO cooperation.
  • Informal meeting of EU foreign ministers (Gymnich)
    | Thu-Fri, 5-6 March 2020 | Zagreb, Croatia
  • European Defence Industry Summit 
    | Thursday, 5 March 2020 | Brussels, Belgium
    Topics to be discussed include European Defence Union, EU-NATO dialogue and investments and R&D in defence technology and equipment.
  • 50th anniversary of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
    | Thursday, 5 March 2020 | United Nations


The increasing failure of multilateralism to provide global solutions to global problems is alarming. Could the European political parties play a role in strengthening international rule-making?
Join us in Brussels on 5 March 2020, for EURACTIV’s high-level Stakeholder Workshop Cosmocracy: European political parties at the forefront of global governance evolution? to discuss the role of European Political parties in shaping global governance mechanisms.


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