Celebrating Europe Day: a strong EU in trying times

Article written by Abigail Mizzi – Executive, MEUSAC
Published in The Malta Independent – 09.05.2020

Today is Europe day; a day intended to celebrate Europe’s unity and peace.  This day reminds us that Europe has come a long way these last few decades, especially when considering that just seventy years ago (1950s) Europe was still struggling to get up on its feet after the devastation of World War II.

It was indeed the horrors of the war and the destruction it left behind which led to the creation of a Union of European countries on May 9, 1950, spearheaded by French Minister Robert Schuman. His idea was to plant the seed of political cooperation in Europe by establishing a European Institution to pool and manage coal and steal production.  By pooling resources usually used in wars, war would simply become an unthinkable pursuit.  Schuman’s simple proposal back then has now flourished into a Union of 27 European Member States, most commonly known as the European Union (EU).  The EU today is not only a strong political union but also an economic power which boasts stability, prosperity and is a global leader in establishing high-quality standards.

However, the EU has endured various tests throughout its course, Brexit being a recent setback which the EU had to face for example.  Currently, there is no doubt that the EU is facing a very different kind of test:  the COVID-19 virus and its societal and economic implications on various EU Member States.  It is a test indeed since the EU needs to demonstrate to Member States and its citizens that its response is clear, immediate and effective.

So far, the EU has been busy doing its fair share, even though, as an institution, the EU is only able to exercise shared competences with the Member States on public health.  This means that while the EU can legislate in this area, Member States usually adopt their own national policies on health.  Therefore, the EU has been focusing on coordinating and organizing responses to the COVID-19 crisis instead.  For instance, the EU mobilized the European Medical Corps, which meant that doctors and nurses from Romania and Norway were able to go to Italy to assist COVID-19 patients.  EU Member States have also been supporting one another by providing protective masks and other medical equipment in these trying times, signaling a clear sign of European solidarity.  Moreover, thanks to the efforts of the European Commission, thousands of European citizens were repatriated to their home countries; efforts which were facilitated and financed by the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

In terms of economic assistance, the EU has also unlocked € 8 billion in financial assistance from the European Fund for Strategic Investments.  This will allow some 100,000 European businesses to apply for support with local banks who will be qualified to participate in the scheme.  The EU’s SURE initiative was also launched in April to provide € 100 billion in the form of favorable loans from the EU to affected Member States so as to help preserve jobs and support families at risk of unemployment.

Only last week, the EU established the EU COVID-19 Data Platform with the aim of collecting and sharing thorough research data to fast-track ongoing research efforts in relation to COVID-19.  Moreover, a pan-European hackathon was also organised connecting thousands of civil society members, innovators, partners and investors across Europe in order to develop innovative solutions for coronavirus-related challenges.

Would Robert Schuman have ever predicted that his idea 70 years ago would result into such a strong and vibrant Union?  The answer is: probably not.  The countless meetings which are resulting in measures being taken are a clear demonstration that even in times of crises, even in times where everything appears as uncertain as ever, the EU stands united and ready to face whatever is at stake.  This alone should be enough reason to celebrate and commemorate Europe day and what it has meant for the past, but what it also means for the present.

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