The EU’s old wounds have been exposed by coronavirus in a potentially fatal blow, France’s former European affairs minister Elisabeth Guigou has warned. EU officials in Brussels have repeatedly urged national capitals to show solidarity, but the health crisis has only underlined existing divisions and tensions between member states.
“The European Union is in danger of death,” Mme Guigou said in an op-ed piece published by newspaper Le Monde. “Never before has the level of mistrust between EU states reached such heights. Never before has the climate between the leaders of the bloc’s northern and southern states been this poisonous,” she continued.
“[Europe] must take decisions that match the seriousness of the crisis, otherwise populists and nationalists will once again dominate the political scene,” she said, as she accused populists of “exploiting the crisis” and “playing on people’s fears” in a bid to return to the spotlight.
If the bloc fails to rise to this unprecedented challenge it will “disappear from the radar screen” and be “crushed between the United States and China, and tossed around in an increasingly fractured, lawless world,” Mme Guigou warned.
She said: “[The EU] must recover the spirit of solidarity that prevailed in the wake of the Second World War and show Europeans that this spirit it not dead … [Europeans] must show the world they are capable of taking rapid and bold decisions.”
The EU has struggling to come up with a coordinated response to the deadly coronavirus pandemic, the latest test of the bloc’s solidarity after it was rattled by Brexit, the 2015-2016 migration wave and the euro zone debt crisis.
The Commission, the bloc’s powerful executive arm, has repeatedly begged EU states to show solidarity, but the crisis has only unearthed existing, bitter divisions.
EU leaders have squabbled over how to minimise the economic pain and prepare for an eventual recovery, with the ailing south angered by the resistance of the richer north to offer more support.
France – the fifth worst-hit country in the world – is proposing that the Commission issue joint bonds to finance a coronavirus recovery fund worth 1-2 percent of gross national income (GNI) per year – or €150-300 billion – in 2021-23, according to Reuters.
The proposal comes after EU leaders agreed last month to create the fund, but left most of the details unresolved amid deep rifts over the amount needed to kickstart recovery, how to finance any such special vehicle, and how to spend the money.
Member states will address the matter after the EU executive publishes its official proposal later this month on a new joint budget for all the 27 member states for 2021-27, known as the Multiannual Financial Framework (MMF), and the recovery fund.
“The size should be at least 1 percent to 2 percent of EU GNI per year over the next three years, which should provide the EU budget with a top-up of €150 to 300 billion each year between 2021 and 2023,” the French discussion document on the fund said.
France, along with Italy and other southern nations, have warned that denying sufficient aid to member states most hit by coronavirus would risk tearing the EU apart.