JAUME DUCH GUILLOT
Almost all of us know that yesterday marked 75 years since the end of the Second World War, and a few less, that today May 9 we are commemorating the 70th anniversary of the statement made by Robert Schuman, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, which was the starting point for European unification. In the short space of five years, survivors of the worst conflagration in history were able to replace hatreds and grudges with a joint reconstruction project.
Seventy years later, in the midst of the health and economic crisis of coronavirus, many will wonder if there is anything to celebrate. The Europeans have not left any war, but we have faced the disastrous consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
From this crisis we should come out with a firm commitment to provide the EU with a health policy
The history of Europe has given the Schuman declaration a place of honour and, in turn, has ended up forgetting that just one year after another minister of that government, Paul Ribeyre, proposed nothing less than the creation of a European Health Community, convinced that diseases did not understand borders or social or ideological differences.
Ribeyre envisioned a common European health and public health strategy, with plans to reinforce nothing less than research and the fight against epidemics, common planning of hospital systems and the launch of a common European market for medicines and medical equipment. Does the syllabus ring a bell? But the proposal failed for a combination of various reasons and we Europeans missed the opportunity to prepare to face a crisis like today with better weapons.
In both cases, the proposals that prospered and those that did not, the cement used was that of solidarity. Schuman himself says so in the most cited part of his statement: “Europe will not be done suddenly, nor with a construction of assembly: it will be done through concrete accomplishments, first creating a de facto solidarity”. That is the concept, “solidarity indeed”, From then until today whenever there has been such solidarity between countries things have advanced and Europeans have benefited. When she was replaced by electoral selfishness or short-termist calculations, those “concrete accomplishments” Schuman was talking about have run aground, harming us all.
When the virus began to hit us, the reaction of many governments had much of every man for himself, probably the result of the bewilderment of the first moments. Meanwhile, indeed many people turned their sights to the European Union, understanding better than some of its rulers that such a major health and economic crisis could only be successfully tackled through mutual help and solidarity cooperation between countries: the Schuman recipe.
As with other crises, the level of demand of citizens showed that citizens assume that the EU can do everything or everything in power, something that is far from reality. However, despite the lack of real health skills (and if Minister Ribeyre raised his head…!), the European institutions worked hard to coordinate actions to prevent border closures between EU member states from preventing the free movement of medical equipment and food, coordinating the closure of the Union’s external borders to prevent further spread of the virus , mobilized billions of euros in urgent aid, launched tenders for mass purchase of protective material or contributed to the repatriation of half a million European citizens. Within days, the European Central Bank mobilized a trillion euros and the Commission suspended some key provisions of the stability pact to allow for greater indebtedness.
Although for some days the difficult discussions on funding prevented us from seeing clearly the overall scope of the European response, the fact is that the EU has acted much faster this time than in previous crises. In a few weeks, action has been taken and funds mobilized that during the economic crisis that erupted in 2008 took months, years or simply did not come to light. The list of decisions in these weeks fills pages and pages and without some of them could not have done most national governments.
It is repeated as a mantra, and it is true, that the European project has been advancing with every crisis it has faced. Only when there seems to be no choice do they end up taking impossible measures to imagine a few months earlier. Economic instruments emerged from the 2008 crisis that make us stronger today. We should come out of the coronavirus crisis, in addition to a strong economic recovery plan, with a firm commitment to provide the European Union with a health policy that better prepares us to deal with possible new epidemics. For seventy years we have had Schuman’s recipe, solidarity and joint work, and Ribeyre’s forgotten plans. All that’s missing is the will.