Can the EU go beyond the Economy?

Analysing the deadlocks of the EU decision-making process in the post-Covid recovery

Foreward: This piece was written collaboratively and submitted for a competition at the East-West European Institute. It was published on 17/12/2020 available at: https://eastwest.eu/en/anti-covid-measures-eu-identity/

The European Union is a political and economic organisation crossing different policy areas, with its crucial concept of European integration being upheld throughout several external and internal crises, the most recent of which is Covid-19. Implementing restrictive measures to battle the pandemic, the Member States were dragged into severe recession and ideological conflicts by the sudden paralysis of their economies. The EU forecast that its economies will contract by 7.8% by the end of 2020.

In May, the EU Commission unveiled a €750 billion Next Generation EU stimulus plan, including €500 billion in grants, together with a long-term revised proposal for the EU’s budget 2021–2027. The Frugal Four, Austria, Denmark, Netherlands, and Sweden, fiercely opposed this proposition during July’s Special European Council. They negotiated to reduce the grants’ total value to €390 billion, endangering the capacity of the plan to bolster the public finances of the most severely damaged countries.

Notably, European integration could also face a challenge in wavering solidarity within the Union. National reform plans must be presented to the Commission and to the Council, with the qualified majority of the latter being necessary for the funds to enter into circulation. The Netherlands’ concerns regarding the monitoring use of the fund led them to request a right to an emergency break: If a State casts doubt on another’s ability to wisely use the recovery fund, it could address its concerns to the Council, suspending the cash flow.

Another point of friction has been the legal prerequisites to access the money. Hungary and Poland which stirred comments in the past few years by progressively undermining their democratic system opposed the proposition of strictly adhering to the rule of law. They have now been accused of starting to water down proposed policy and slowing the negotiations.

Although some Member States have called for a more robust and in-depth financial reporting system, others suggested a more moderate solution. Thus, a monitoring system has been set up to ensure an appropriate growth rate for the European economy and introduce a unanimous economic vision.

An efficient implementation of the stimulus measures will instill good will throughout the EU and mitigate the criticism over the European Economic Ideology leading to a European identity. A good way to establish this may be to break the problem in two:

· In the short-term, a steady implementation of the recovery plan is necessary to gain favour in countries where Europeanism is weaker such as the Visegrád group. It is also necessary to create Euro-demos offering a multi-faceted democracy that promotes greater participation and deliberation from different sectors.

· In the long-term, a sense of unity should impregnate European citizens to bolster integration. The more people are involved and walk in the shoes of other Member States, the easier it would be to find shared ground for greater cooperation.

The further development of communities in the Community could initiate a political dialogue within a divided Union. So, to disregard once and for all the divided paths between the North and South, accepting and recognizing the uniqueness of each approach could be a huge advantage to unity within the EU and not a source of discord.

The EU has always faced crises but, its problems have never before reached such a scale. The very wording of conditions contained within the quoted Economic plan has highlighted the different national approaches creating political deadlock and slowing EU recovery. The mentioned two-step approach should act to bind and rebuild the fragmented Union, starting with the careful release of the recovery fund to all heavily-impacted economies. The unity at the heart of the fund must be politicised and further integration pursued. If successful, this will sow the seeds of a stronger union better equipped to face the growing list of challenges at its door.

Authors:

Andrew Armstrong, Alice Colantoni, Davide Durante, Tyra Lundberg, Thomas Mouchard, Emina Zeljkovic

Andrew’s additional notes that didn’t make the cut:

“Cross border cooperation during the Covid pandemic has shown that despite a recent rise in the prominent nationalism of member states, a cooperative culture transcending national borders hasn’t lost its merits. The initial wave of Covid-19 through the EU saw its major players divided in their approach to tackling the virus. While Italy’s government called for aid, France, Germany and other EU countries imposed limits on their PPE exports which was a major public setback for the cohesion of the European block. Italian aid came from China who ransomed back a fraction of what Europe had donated to it only months prior and left governments with no option but to then buy faulty and defective PPE and testing kits from outside the EU in a desperate bid to save their citizens. Sceptics of the European project have capitalized on this key failing, spinning the narrative into a destabilizing tale of a deadly lack of solidarity which if left unchecked will cleave the union apart.

Michael Roth, the German minister of state for Europe has highlighted the need for resilience to fake news, disinformation and the political instability it brings. Results from a year-long study on Americans’ attitudes towards the media issued by the Pew Research Centre stated that 51% of the population state they have little to no confidence that journalists act in the best interests of the public. Europe and America’s tabloid press share many of the same owners thus western attitudes towards established news corporations largely shift in tandem. As a global cultural heavyweight American ideals spread rapidly; as levels of scepticism rise and more people turn to online outlets, the EU member states must act to establish ethical and efficient fact-checking or sourcing protocols. This comes with its own set of challenges but, collaboratively, they must act to pull the illegitimate rug out from unsubstantiated, poorly sourced news media lest they fall foul to fake news. Policy makers must heed this warning. A prime example of the growth of disunity within the EU is the Identity and Democracy party forming with 73 members in 2019 “do less together but better”.

… Six months down the line and the lockdowns continue however, out of the fear and confusion of the early months a more European standard has emerged. On 30th October Ursula von der Leyen announced a €220 million envelope to assist transfers of Covid-19 patents between EU member countries to ease the pressure on those struggling. If seen to be a success this policy and those like it could be a rallying cry for pro-Europeans seeing the strength of not facing a crisis alone. This policy alone isn’t enough …stimulus package …IMF … Keynesian spending … Greece + Charles de Gaulles … Climate — ambitious socially economic green recovery + building back better + focussing on those most affected (solidarity) …Hope!”