End of EU? Brussels’ ‘powerlessness’ in COVID-19 response ‘STAGGERING’ says leading expert

Europe’s response to the spread of the deadly virus was primarily characterised by individual nations pursuing their own agendas, without any consideration for the need of their fellow members. The first response was to close borders, hoard equipment and assemble national responses in a situation where it was every person was for themselves. The lack of a coherent collective response to the pandemic was severely criticised by the vice-president of the Jacques Delors Institute thinktank.

Nicole Gnesotto said: “The EU’s lack of preparations, its powerlessness, its timidity are staggering.

“Of course, health is not part of its competency, but it is not without means or responsibility.”

His comments come as EU finance ministers finally agreed last week a £430 billion rescue package for European countries hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The package agreed is much less than what the Europe Central Bank (ECB) called for in order to help countries cope with the economic fallout from the devastating health crisis.

The ECB argued that countries would need in the region of £1.3 trillion to help them navigate their way through the financial chaos wreaked by the COVID-19 storm.

EU ministers also failed to accept a demand from both France and Italy to share out the costs of the crisis by issuing so-called coronabonds.

This would have made it much easier for countries with large debts, such as Italy and Spain, to raise credit at affordable rates.

However, the idea was strongly resisted by both the Netherlands and Germany.

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The Germans and Dutch suspect Italy is using the crisis in Lombardy to rebrand the rejected concept of eurobonds in which the north finances the debts of the wreckless south.

The wrangling over the issue of coronabonds has caused bitter resentment and led some to question whether the EU can survive intact after the crisis.

The former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta has been particularly scathing about Dutch resistance to helping Italy.

He told the Dutch press that the Italian view of the Netherlands has been seriously damaged.

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He said: “It did not help that a day after German customs officials stopped a huge amount of masks at the border, Russian trucks carrying relief supplies drove through the streets of Rome and millions of masks were sent from China.

“Matteo Salvini is waiting for this type of action from the Netherlands and Germany so that he can say: you see, we have no use for the European Union.”

A diplomat told the BBC that the crisis had not been Europe’s “finest hour” and had laid bare the divisions and cracks within the bloc.

The diplomat said: “This has not been our finest moment.

“Our response has come too late and has been marred by nationalism.

“Solidarity went out of the window with the first coronavirus victim.”

The pandemic has stabilised in many EU countries, with infection and death rates beginning to see a downward trend.

This has led some countries to consider a partial lifting of their curfews, that have been in place for weeks.

Small, non-essential shops are set to open in Austria and Czech Republic next week.

Denmark’s schools and kindergartens will reopen on 15 April, and Norway’s on 20 April.

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