The Brief – Every state for themselves?

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter [EPA-EFE | Felipe Trueba]

Just as the World Health Organisation warned that the United States will become the next COVID-19 epicentre, US President Donald Trump wants a deadline for lockdowns to end. In two weeks, Americans could be back to work, according to his tweets.

But the thing about it is: the lockdowns aren’t up to him. As the economic pain sets in, this federal fact may splinter the US response – and provide a stark warning for Europeans.

It appears that Trump wants to follow Boris Johnson’s now-abandoned playbook: develop herd immunity as quickly as possible to mitigate damage to the economy. 

Johnson did a U-turn after understanding the potential mass casualties such a plan would entail, but the Trump administration and other pro-Trump state officials are doubling down.

Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow has said that the costs of shutting down the economy are “too great.” The Texas Lieutenant Governor declared that American grandparents would happily sacrifice themselves to save the economy. 

Such callousness has received bipartisan blowback. Many governors have stepped in to say that they will put public health above any economic concerns, and in the American federal system, they are the ones in charge of these lockdowns. 

But what happens if New York remains locked down while young Texans go about their business? As public health officials have noted, these young, possibly asymptomatic, people have the potential to become COVID-19 super-spreaders, fuelling new peaks that would overrun hospitals. 

Young people could also get sick and require those hospital beds and ventilators themselves. Recent reporting has noted COVID-19’s lethality for those under 40 as well as additional risk groups that span age groups, including those with diabetes or asthma or people who vape.

Furthermore, the novel coronavirus does not respect borders. If some officials follow the White House’s advice, it will have disastrous health impacts for everyone.

Europeans are not immune to these federal disputes. Over the weekend, the meeting of German state leaders got tense over similar concerns.

Leading Christian Democrats, Armin Laschet of North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavarian Markus Söder, are reported to have had a screaming match over Bavaria’s unilateral lockdown, which had not involved the other 15 states.

As economic losses mount, the German arguments could take an American turn.

Today (25 March), the first politician broke ranks.

In an op-ed in a regional newspaper, the Social Democratic Mayor of the North Rhine-Westphalian capital Düsseldorf, Thomas Geisel, suggested easing restrictions for young people who are less at risk for the virus and isolating older and immunocompromised groups.  

Federal systems can be unwieldy in a crisis situation. Getting 16 or 50 people to agree to a plan is difficult. Finding agreement during a pandemic, where time is of the essence and the solutions inflict pain, is an even more arduous task. 

However, it is also essential. Thus, political leaders, whether at the local, state, national, or EU level, must recognise this fact and work together. And they must continue to do so even as the times get tougher and the siren song of easing restrictions grows louder.

The Roundup

Make sure you stay up-to-date with everything to do with coronavirus across the capitals with EURACTIV’s comprehensive overview, regularly updated with the help of our pan-European network of reporters and media partners.

The coronavirus has forced the European Parliament to postpone its full four-day plenary sessions in Strasbourg until at least September, according to a revised calendar seen by EURACTIV.

Nine eurozone countries sent a letter to the President of the EU Council, Charles Michel, asking for a common debt instrument to mitigate the damage caused by the coronavirus crisis, Greek media reported.

Russia’s foreign ministry urged all parties to regional armed conflicts to immediately stop hostilities, secure a ceasefire, and introduce a humanitarian pause, in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. Thus, Moscow joins the appeal UN Secretary-General António Guterres launched on 23 March.

Russian-backed armed formations in the breakaway Donbas region have since Saturday (21 March) denied access to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) mission monitoring the conflict.

Europe’s farming sector could face a dramatic shortfall in workers as a consequence of the border restrictions put in place to stem the spread of novel coronavirus, which could lead to “devastating” impacts, according to farmers association COPA-COGECA.

The French government has called on employees who are on temporary lay-offs to make themselves available to help farmers with seasonal harvests. But such ‘agricultural patriotism’ does not go well with the tightening of containment measures.

As part of its broader open data policy, the European Commission is to task EU member states with establishing structures that facilitate the use of data for the ‘common good.’ And the executive is hoping that the coronavirus crisis can be leveraged to demonstrate the power of data analytics.

Pollution levels have dropped by more than 50% in parts of Europe, according to new figures published by the European Environmental Agency (EEA), as coronavirus lockdown measures empty city streets of traffic.

Look out for…

European Council meeting on Thursday – EU27 leaders discuss the coronavirus pandemic in a videoconference.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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