Philip Cole provides our regular look at how Europe is reporting on itself…and on us…
This bulletin: the Coronavirus pandemic
Germany calls for solidarity
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has appealed to Germans to show solidarity with the EU and accept a higher level of indebtedness to help finance the reconstruction fund. ‘The fund cannot solve all our problems’, she said, ‘but without it all our problems will get worse’. All it requires is high unemployment in one country’. This would pose an increased risk for democracy, she added. (Die Zeit, 26.06.2020).
Shooting oneself in the foot
Bert Lanting, Foreign Policy supremo of the Dutch Volkskrant (26.06.2020), says that Boris Johnson is not providing leadership but is allowing himself to be led by public opinion. By permitting Premier League matches to start again he has shown that he understands the plebs want bread and circuses. But Lanting is surprised that cricket matches won’t be going ahead – it’s played on wide open spaces with plenty of social distancing. On the thorny subject of extending the Brexit transition period Lanting maintains that Johnson’s reasoning is that the economy has suffered so much from the Covid-19 crisis that there’s nothing much to lose, but adds that if you have had one leg amputated it makes no sense to shoot yourself in the remaining foot. His conclusion: Johnson’s policy is ‘pure populism’.
‘Permanent wave rather than second wave’
An editorial in Luxembourg’s Tageblatt (27.06.2020) points out that talking about a second wave of Coronavirus in this autumn or winter gives people the false impression that they will have nothing to worry about in the summer, when everyone can get back to work, consumers can consume and the economy will be kept going. We already know that this is a fallacy: the scandal of the meat factories in Germany illustrate this. In most European countries the number of cases is rising. The virus is still there. We need to continue to be vigilant and not wait until autumn
‘A moment of great psychological significance’
So many unforeseen things have happened in the past few months that it is easy to miss a big thing that did not happen, says Fintan O’Toole, writing in the Irish Times (27.06.2020). In this existential crisis of Coronavirus, Ireland did not take its lead from Britain. Given the tragic mess that the Johnson-Cummings administration has made of its response to the pandemic, this seems obvious enough. But it does nonetheless feel like a moment of great psychological significance for Ireland – and one that says a lot about Britain’s standing in the world.
Faced with an unknown virus and a potential catastrophe, it would have been quite natural for scientists, technocrats and politicians in Ireland to look across the Irish Sea for guidance.
But of course that’s not what happened. Not only did Ireland diverge radically from British policy, but the differences have proved to be literally vital. To put it starkly: hundreds of people are alive today in Ireland because Dublin did not take its lead from London. The breaking of the old habit has been a lifesaver.
Many lives were saved because Ireland took an internationalist approach to the pandemic. It looked to what was happening in other European Union countries and followed the advice of the World Health Organisation. The Boris Johnson/Dominic Cummings administration in London, meanwhile, was so wrapped up in English exceptionalism that it was convinced the virus would treat Blighty as a special case. It is probable that Johnson’s slovenly response has ended up killing more than 20,000 people. If Dublin had followed London, we would certainly be talking about many hundreds of avoidable deaths in Ireland.
This may be the one saving grace of Brexit. That tragicomic show (still running of course) has made a mockery of the very thing it is supposed to revive: British greatness. Very few people outside England (and by no means everyone within it) can now take seriously the idea of Britain as a place one might look to for trust in expertise, for managerial competence, or for political judgment. The Anglo-Irish relationship will remain very close, of course. But a key part of that relationship – joint membership of, and close co-operation within, the EU – is vanishing. And the sad state of governance in London makes it impossible to ask “What is London doing?” without adding that perhaps we should do the opposite.