The coronavirus pandemic may fundamentally change Europe.
To be fair, though, creating a central European parliament and a common currency never fundamentally changed Europeans.
The 1957 European Economic Community agreement on economic/trade integration made some sense, but, its political/common currency successor, a European Union (EU) created by the 1993 Maastricht Treaty, is imperfect.
The only common interests of member nations in both were fear of another catastrophic European war and the appeal of a continental coalition to challenge America’s economic preeminence. America’s Marshall Plan to rebuild WWII-ravaged Europe established English as Europe’s default business language, and English instruction still dominates European schools’ foreign language programs.
Arguably, the EU’s greatest underlying flaw is its lack of a “national” identity. Every EU member state had – still has – a distinct national identity, including often-unique customs, costumes, cuisines, cultures, languages and economic outlooks. More importantly, each has its own history, in every case a history of conflict with/distrust of other EU affiliates. The European Union could not combine members’ intrinsic differences into an inclusive, cohesive, truly-united continental society.
Now, the concurrent health and economic pressures inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic have further unmasked the EU’s transnational pretensions and intensified other underlying weaknesses.
Fault lines appeared during the 2008 global economic crisis, when, first, Greece sought a bailout. The European Central Bank (ECB), reluctantly, and the International Monetary Fund (partially-funded by American taxpayers) “solved” Greece’s problems, followed by bailouts for Ireland, Portugal – and another for Greece.
Then, the ECB began buying Spanish and Italian bonds. Stringent fiscal restrictions were imposed on ultimately-resentful bailout recipients whose Euro-dependence denied them the flexibility to alleviate financial problems by devaluing independent national currencies.
More recently, Brexit, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal, encouraged other EU members to consider separation. Nationalist parties are gaining strength almost everywhere.
The national interests of EU members during the coronavirus pandemic have further weakened Euro-Unity: some reimposed border restrictions, and France and Germany blocked exports of essential medical supplies such as masks and ventilators to the Italian and Spanish epicenters of the outbreak. Northern European members dismissed Spain’s and Italy’s financial inability fight the crisis on their own.
In effect, EU nations dropped the “U.”
The pandemic has convinced more Europeans that open borders and a centrally-controlled currency may not be generally beneficial.
Italy’s Prime Minister believes “nationalist instincts” will grow if “Europe is not up to the challenge,” and the leader of Italy’s most popular party said, “…once the virus is defeated, we will have to ask ourselves about the future of the EU.”
The EU is a “progressive” geographical experiment rooted in fearful, post-war hopefulness. But, among things progressives inevitably disregard in pursuit of their policy preferences are the three which argue most persuasively against them: History, human nature and math.
European history alone raises doubts about the enduring ability of nations that share few common interests even in peacetime to set aside multi-millennial differences.
The European Union is not a true polity. It is a fragile alliance that pandemic warfare might finally destroy.