by Sylvie Kauffmann *
The global crisis caused by Covid-19 is more like a cyclone than an earthquake. It does not radically change the data in the international game. However, the violence of the shock accelerated the tendencies that were already apparent in our unstable world before the pandemic.
One region seems to be an exception: Europe. Instead of disintegrating, the European Union has pursued the opposite direction of greater unification. She began discussing this at the June 19 summit, in order to make her decisions by the end of July. Apart from this historic negotiation, there are many tectonic lines that have moved due to the crisis.
The Franco-German engine is back. Emanuel Macron was disappointed that his proposals did not go ahead and decided that the French-German couple was no longer enough. But the pandemic reversed the momentum. The March 26 summit, in which the countries of the South clashed with those of the North, brought to the surface an existential threat to the cohesion of the EU. On May 18, the two leaders submitted an unprecedented joint proposal for a € 500 billion recovery fund. The message was given: Europe is beginning.
The idea of joint lending was adopted. On May 27, the Commission, in turn, proposed a plan for recovery and reconstruction, which took into account the objections of the so-called “oligarchic countries.” With the € 750 billion plan, which will be given in the form of subsidies and loans to countries hit hardest by the pandemic, a taboo has fallen: this money will come from common borrowing in the financial markets and will be repaid jointly, which opens the road to debt consolidation. To prevent backlash, Berlin has assured that the process will be extraordinary.
The United Kingdom is absent. This was the first serious European crisis without the British. Without their great liberal and Eurosceptic ally, the North’s countries have discovered that they are fragile. Even Germany abandoned them. “We were on the same line with the British, now we have to find different partners in every issue,” admits a Swedish minister.
Geopolitical innocence is over. When the financial crisis erupted ten years ago, the EU welcomed China and its investments with open arms, the countries of the South sold their ports, and Central Europe joined Xi Jinping’s plans for the new Silk Road. The mockery, and then the repression in Hong Kong, revealed to the Europeans the other face of the regime. But they have not yet led to a common tough line against Beijing. At a time when Sino-US tensions are rising, the EU does not want to be called upon to choose a camp.
The word “sovereignty” has returned to the fore, although the Germans prefer the term “ability to act.” Dominance is primarily health: after the tragic shortage of masks, Europe has realised that it can no longer depend on Asia for medical supplies and medicine. Dominance is also economic and industrial: the Commission wants to protect its strategic sectors from Chinese and American investors. Where no progress has yet been made is on strategic autonomy, which Emanuel Macron has been pursuing for three years.
Central European countries say they need to guarantee the rule of law in order to benefit from the recovery fund. This is also an unexpected consequence of the pandemic.