Can Europe tame pandemonium?

New Statesman

Covid-19 brought the EU together — the crisis in Ukraine may now tear it apart.

As 2022 begins, Europe presents a Janus face. In the east, Russia’s military is massing on the border of Ukraine. The EU’s attempts at diplomacy have been swept aside. Moscow wants to deal with Washington. While the east European member states strike a hawkish pose, the German government is divided and Mario Draghi, Italy’s prime minister, says out loud what ought to be obvious. With limited military means and heavy dependence on Russia’s gas, Europe has no capacity for credible deterrence. Whatever position you take on the Ukraine crisis, the EU does not come off well.

On the other hand, Brussels is releasing volumes of NextGenerationEU funding to its member states. France and Italy have opened the debate about enabling greater public investment. Tens of billions in revenue are flowing into the EU’s Emissions Trading System. Nor is Brussels flinching from its confrontation with Britain over Brexit, and with Warsaw over the Polish government’s flouting of the supremacy of European law. While Russia’s aggression exposes Europe’s divisions, it appears that Covid has driven the EU more tightly together than ever.

There was little reason to think that the pandemic would be good for the EU. It was unprepared and a common healthcare policy was not part of the union’s remit. In March and April 2020 things were going disastrously. The European public was outraged. It was an urgent and fast-moving crisis – not the kind of situation you would expect the EU to cope with well.

But as the Dutch historian and political theorist Luuk van Middelaar has been arguing for some time, the EU is no longer the mechanical rule-making apparatus that it was. It is an increasingly capable political actor, forged by crises over more than a decade. That was already clear before 2020; Covid confirmed it.

Read the full article at The New Statesman

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