Europe Day – May 9: 70 years on since the European project idea – EU solidarity put to the test

Article written by Duncan Barry – Executive, MEUSAC
Published in Bizzilla Magazine – Issue 89, May 2020

Under normal circumstances, MEUSAC – which serves as a platform in Malta to disseminate EU-related information – puts up an information fair at Valletta’s main entrance where stands promote EU-related services to the public in a form of a one-stop information hub. This is done at par with other EU institutions and entities that open their doors to the public in early May in Brussels and Strasbourg. Local EU offices in Europe and all over the world organise a variety of activities and events for all ages.

But this year, it’s going to be a different kind of celebration as everybody is urged to stay home to contain the virus that has engulfed the world over.

But not all is doom and gloom. It is pertinent that one also sees the bright side, even when such a pandemic has blurred horizons.

Europe Day: How it all started
For starters, Europe Day made it to our calendars to celebrate peace, solidarity and unity in Europe.

The date, this year marks the 70th anniversary of the historical ‘Schuman declaration’. At a speech in Paris in 1950, Robert Schuman, the then French Foreign minister, set out his idea for a new form of political and economic cooperation in Europe, which would make war between Europe’s nations unthinkable and promote world peace.

His vision: to create a European institution that would pool and manage coal and steel production. A treaty creating such a body was signed just under a year later. Schuman’s proposal is considered to be the beginning of what is now the European Union.

“There would be a Single Market ethos to revitalise the economies of both Europe and the wider world. Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.”

A coordinated effort
From the outset, the EU engaged in coordinated efforts to contain the virus.

In the light of this pandemic, Europe is utilising all its resources in a bid to contain the virus. Member States have shut down their borders and suspended all flights from third countries.

From donating ventilators to taking in critical patients, and implementing socio-economic measures, EU countries are doing their best to help each other in during the COVID-19 crisis – this shows a sign of unity and reflects what was said 70 years ago – the idea of Robert Schuman.

As President of the European Parliament (EP) David Sassoli put it, following a video conference on the EP’s response to the crisis, in April, “Europe is moving. Faced with this dramatic situation, with a duty to defend lives, livelihoods, and stability for all, the European Union is acting”.

And where does the Single Market step in? The continuous supply of essential goods and vital medical and protective equipment within the Single Market is key to addressing the COVID-19 crisis. The aim of the new and urgent COVID-19 measures is to protect health and keep goods and essential services available within the EU’s internal market.

Completely closing down borders might seem like the safest way to protect citizens, but don’t we all depend on imports from other Member States to keep our importation of supplies going? This is vital where medical and protective equipment is concerned in a bid to ensure that this pandemic doesn’t worsen.

And the installation of ‘green lanes’ to ensure the speedy delivery of essential goods and services is important in the supply of medical equipment.

We are in it together
More than ever, Europe is calling on us Europeans to pull the same rope in the fight against an invisible enemy which has taken the world by storm.

But how would this understanding have come about if Europe weren’t one big family?

Europe has implemented a wide array of measures: from flight restrictions, to travel bans and airport closures while also repatriating European citizens stuck in other countries.

And when it comes to financial help, the EU has also emerged with measures to mitigate the impact on the economies of Member States. These include the European Commission’s SURE initiative to protect employment in the specific emergency circumstances of the COVID-19 crisis in the form of loans granted on favourable terms from the EU to Member States, of up to €100 billion in total. The aim is to build on the EU budget as much as possible, while ensuring sufficient capacity for Balance of Payments support, and on guarantees provided by Member States to the EU budget. The instrument will be discontinued once COVID-19 has passed so the measure is temporary.

Another is the €540 billion package of measures to combat the economic fallout of the global coronavirus pandemic.

European coordination, the pooling of information, good practices and crisis management mechanisms, such as the creation of a rescEU stockpile of medical equipment – have been activated. The work of the ministers in charge of the sectors affected by the crisis as well as committees of experts, notably from the health sector are other examples.

This is the result of an EU that has always worked towards one common aim. This time it’s a fight against Covid-19.

Looking at the bright side, let’s celebrate as one big family the coordinated efforts of an EU that has been built to secure our values and wellbeing.

Related link: 10 things the EU is doing to respond to the crisis – click here.

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