Albares Adriana, Kaspar Felicia, Lombaerts Cédric, Luoma Ben, Stańczyk Mateusz
Covid-19: will the EU leadership conjure the necessary political courage to persevere in overcoming recurring deadlocks?
Halloween is over, but some uninvited ghosts are lingering to haunt the EU. After a decade of rebuilding and austerity, the bloc has suffered yet another harrowing economic blow, courtesy of the coronavirus. The pandemic has revealed new deadlocks in EU decision-making, as well as some all-too-familiar predicaments. The masks of intergovernmentalism, incompetence and complacency have fallen off – pun intended. This begs the question of whether the EU can go beyond the economy. In other words, can the European integration project grow into an ever-closer political union?
Disaster inflames deadlocks
During crises of almost biblical proportions, such as the Euro Crisis or the pandemic, the European Council – responsible for establishing the EU’s political guidelines – is known to step up and take the reins, usually down a precarious path. This increased intergovernmental approach for EU governance is the direct source of political deadlocks in the coronavirus recovery and beyond. The European Council’s forum has turned out to be an indicator and accelerator of major schisms between the Member States. The EU’s glaring lack of (own) resources – which, nota bene, is a point of contention in its own right – led to a marathon European Council summit in July. Between the frugal-necessitous conflict of North and South, rule of law conditionality and deliberate neglect thereof by Poland and Hungary, how can we expect prompt and proper decisions?
In an institution where Members consist of national leaders with individual political agendas established by national rather than supranational interests, should we really be surprised by, for instance, the Frugal Four’s hindering? Whenever the European Council takes control, any decision comes too little, too late as heads of government fail to reach agreement and every decision contends with considered non-compliance of certain Member States.
Euroscepticism seems to be as contagious as Corona. Last summer’s Eurobarometer 93 portrays this: 21 out of 27 Member States exhibit decreased trust in the EU whereas trust in national governments “skyrocketed” from 34% in 2019 to 40%. In short, Europeans rally behind their national governments, rather than the EU in the Covid recovery. Crises come and go in Member States, but crises for the EU tend to become existential. The EU is – at least – legally incompetent in matters of health; its marginal supporting competence herein has been flagrantly exposed during the pandemic. How can we place the EU’s head on the chopping block for an uncoordinated approach when in fact the EU is not authorised to organise one?
Maybe these deadlocks are a painful reminder that the question of whether the EU should go beyond the economy, precedes whether it can. With such overshadowing deficiencies, are we perhaps too quick to neglect the bloc’s extra-economic accomplishments before and during the pandemic? Have we suddenly forgotten the Union’s pioneer exploits in matters of justice, the environment, digitalisation or humanitarian aid? Furthermore, the July summit’s conclusions, an impassioned Commission during this pandemic, gradual successes on rule of law conditionality and own resources indicate that the EU is perhaps more resilient than previously given credit for.
According to Darwinism, evolution – or in casuintegration – does not happen steadily, it occurs in bursts. This pandemic induced burst of political examination reminiscent of previous EU deadlocks.
A good crisis provides a pivotal opportunity for reform. After all, what is lower than rock bottom? The EU has already successfully gone beyond the economy in several areas, but the Covid recovery is no time for complacency. The question remains whether current EU leadership will conjure the necessary political courage to persevere in overcoming recurring deadlocks. The EU is a progressive project; the finalité politique lies where imagination has free reign. Let’s make Darwin proud, shall we?