European Union celebrates its 70th anniversary amid fight against coronavirus

By Barbara Gutierrez

European Union celebrates its 70th anniversary amid fight against coronavirus

By Barbara Gutierrez
A European Union leader details the steps taken to mitigate the physical and economic ravages of the pandemic across 28 member nations.

International Studies professor Joaquin Roy sees a linkage between the challenges faced during the founding of the European Union 70 years ago and the current COVID-19 pandemic.

In a recent online lecture “Europe Day during COVID-19,” Roy said that on May 9, 1950, the “virus” was widespread nationalism that resulted from World War II. The Schuman Declaration, a pact between France and West Germany that was announced that day, laid the foundation for what would eventually be the creation of the European Union in 1993.

“Now we have been captured by another virus but the only way to defeat it is just like the previous one: it is through unity,” he said. “Instead of engaging in isolation and nationalism the message is the same as it was back then. We have to cooperate with Europe, the U.S., and the rest of the world.”

Mercedes Garcia Perez, head of Global Issues and Innovation for the Delegation of the European Union to the U.S., also spoke about the health crisis that has taken “too many lives.” As of May 2020, approximately 1,174,446 cases of the virus were reported in the EU, including the United Kingdom. The countries hit the hardest include Spain, Italy, and the U.K. There had been a total of 151,797 deaths in Europe as of May 8, according to Statista, a German business data platform.

“We are suffering a crisis which is a health crisis and an economic one as well,” Garcia Perez said. “But like any crisis, it offers an opportunity to improve ourselves and the world we live in.”

She said that the European Union believes that once the vaccine to combat the pandemic has been found, it should be the property of the world and not be held to economic restrictions.

To that end, the EU joined with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to raise 8 billion euros to provide tests, medicines, and the production of vaccines against the virus, she said.

“We are at the beginning of this crisis,” she said. “But our countries realized that we are stronger together.”

In order to mitigate the effects of the pandemic the EU also has done the following.

  • Allowed essential workers, such as those who provide electricity and water, to cross national borders whenever it was necessary to help with the crisis.
  • Grouped countries together to buy much needed medical equipment for frontline health workers, instead of competing against each other in the international market.
  • Countries with contiguous borders coordinated efforts so that their plans for lifting containment and restrictions were mutually beneficial.
  • Continued the development and use of mobile data apps to trace contact points that could lead to further contagion. This will come in handy, as there are more contacts of citizens once restrictions are lifted.
  • Used funds to repatriate European nationals stranded in other countries as well as those on cruise ships.

Garcia Perez acknowledged that the pandemic has not only robbed lives but has taken away the livelihood of many people, especially in the tourism and service sectors.   

To mitigate the economic fallout the EU budgeted about 3 trillion euros through the European Central Bank and other financial institutions to help businesses.

“It is crucial for businesses not to separate from their employees,” she said.

According to Garcia Perez, the crisis would not deter the EU from continuing to build its European Green Deal, a plan to address climate change by transforming its economy so that there is no net emission of greenhouse gases by 2050.

“We see it as an opportunity to dedicate more funds rather than going back to an economy based on fossil fuels (which was polluting our planet),” she said. “We should build the economic future that we want. In order to be climate neutral by 2050 we need to transform the economy—how we grow our foods, how we transport ourselves, how we build our buildings, and how we run our industries.”