An article written by Myles Power former EU Policy Adviser for Constitutional Affairs, Legal Affairs and Transport:
After years and years of pushing for more and more integration from such members as Germany and France, the European Union is facing disintegration from the Coronavirus as more and more member states put their countries first.
The Europeans have displayed very precious little of the high-minded multilateral solidarity that for decades has been sold to the rest of the world as a bedrock of European unity. The European Union is now seen to be nothing more than an empty vessel, powerless to prevent its Member States from looking after their own needs.
One of the fundamental philosophies within the EU is the freedom of movement. After all, this is why the Schengen Agreement was established and despite constant terrorist attacks within the European Union it has remained intact, that is until the Coronavirus landed in Europe. In recent weeks the EU Member States have closed their borders, banned export of critical supplies and withheld humanitarian aid. Italy which is the eurozone’s third largest economy has been left with no support or financial aid in their hour of need. Not only has Italy been left to fend for itself but also Spain and these are two of the EU’s Member States that have been worst affected by the Coronavirus outbreak.
Recent examples of Member States pursuing their own national interest, ironically led by those same European leaders who have long championed the idea of a European super state and thought the UK were idiotic for leaving, are the same leaders who have put their interests above those of other Member States.
France. On March 3rd, France confiscated all protective masks made in the country and distributed them to healthcare professionals and to French people affected by the Coronavirus. On March 6th, the French government cancelled an order the UK had with Valmy SAS, a face mask manufacturer near Lyon for millions of masks that were destined for the NHS. On March 25th, Macron called for national unity as opposed to European Unity.
Germany. On March 4th, Germany banned the export of medical protective equipment such as safety glasses, respiratory masks, protective coats, suits and gloves. On March 7th a Swiss newspaper reported that German customs authorities were preventing a Swiss truck carrying 240,000 protective masks from returning to Switzerland, this ban was eventually lifted. On March 16th it also imposed border controls with Austria, Denmark, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
Austria. March 10th saw Austria being the first country to close its borders. Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian Chancellor announced controls along the border with Italy and ban on most travellers from there. The Chancellor also announced that all air or rail travel to Italy was also to be banned. This closure of the borders threatened the Schengen Area.
Italy. On March 13th, Christine Lagarde, the President of the European Central Bank refused to allow any financial assistance to Italy in order to help it cope with the pandemic. Lagarde commented that the ECB was fully ‘committed to avoid any fragmentation in a difficult moment for the euro area’. The President of Italy replied that Italy had a right to expect solidarity rather than obstacles from beyond its border.
Denmark. March 14th, border controls imposed.
Poland. March 15th, borders closed.
Spain. Along with Italy as being one of the worst hit countries in Europe established border controls. On March 25th after failing to get help from the European Union, the Spanish government asked NATO for help in obtaining 1.5 million face masks and 450,000 respirators. NATO could only really pass this request onto its 29 members, the majority of which are also members of the EU.
A survey was carried out in Italy on March 18th and found that 88% of Italians believed that the EU is not helping their country. Of that 67% of Italians found that being a part of the EU was a disadvantage for their country.
The four freedoms of the European Union being freedom of movement for goods, services, capital and people are considered by the Europhiles as being the bedrock of the foundations of the European Union, however at least two of these no longer exist. The UK as part of Brexit questioned the validity of the freedom of people but was rebuked by the EU for cherry picking and was told it was all or nothing, the UK chose nothing.
For now at least two of the four freedoms have been disbanded, how can the Member States on continental Europe cherry pick and expect the validity of the European Union principle to still remain intact after the pandemic.
When it comes to the crunch, evidence has shown that no matter how important you think it may be to be part of a club, the priority still remains self-preservation. The European Union by its own inability to not just manage this crisis but also the migrant crisis has shown that it is no longer fit for purpose.