On 26 March, an utterly divided EU emerged from the European Council dedicated to European measures aimed at managing the severest crisis since 1929.
The coronavirus pandemic and the transpiring economic and social crises present Europe with an extraordinary opportunity: to decide to move towards a deeper unity, or to decline irrevocably.
The prevailing road will naturally depend on the decisions of the governments in the European Council and other EU institutions; but also, and above all, on the mobilisation of citizens and the public opinion in each of the member states.
The question for Europe is the following: is the EU a community of aspirations, a Schicksalsgemeinschaft, or is it but an instrumental association of national selfishness?
The forces of disintegration from the right and the extreme right, victorious with Brexit but temporarily defeated in the European parliament elections of 26 May, are here, ready for a renewed, relentless attack on both the euro and the EU.
And this time round, these forces might even prove victorious, cynically taking advantage of the massive popular disconnection from the EU, caused partly by the enormous suffering endured during this health crisis and the social and economic tragedy that awaits us, but also by the political and moral inaction of the pro-European elites.
The European Parliament has clearly spoken out for a leap forward in European integration.
The European Commission however, bears a great responsibility in the current stagnation.
This is due to its lack of leadership, both in terms of the, multi-annual budget, and in issuing measures to manage this health crisis and its economic consequences.
Contrary to other shocks, this one is not asymmetrical but symmetrical, affecting all countries, even if it currently strikes especially hard in the countries of the south, which already endured the most during the migratory crisis. A situation of exceptional emergence requires exceptional remedies.
The ECB’s decision to commit €750bn to the bond market is important, but it is not decisive. It is imperative that the EU combines an outpouring of anti-virus solidarity with concrete financial solidarity.
This is lacking today.
Reciprocal accusations are harsher than ever. On the one hand, the Dutch and German governments claim the right of ‘moral hazard’: eurobonds, meaning the mutualisation of national debts, would encourage immoral practices and budgetary laxity in indebted moral hazard countries.
On the other hand, the Northern countries are accused of lack of solidarity in a situation that sees almost 1,000 deaths a day in Italy and Spain, rising social unrest and a significant breakthrough of the pandemic in France and Belgium.
But perhaps even worse, they are also accused of wanting to take advantage of the looming financial crisis to enrich themselves and to change the balance of power in Europe.
These reciprocal accusations in the media, this collapse of trust, are upsetting even the most convinced Europeans, are bogging down the very core of the European consensus which has been painstakingly built the past 70 years. The damage to our democracies may soon become irreparable.
Nine member states have sent the letter to European Council president Charles Michel pleading for coronabonds.
We also see public support for this idea in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland. Therefore, we are convinced there is a broad consensus for:
a) a renegotiation of the conditions for crisis/emergency access to the ESM, the European Stability Mechanism comprising €430,000 million;
b) the creation of a European group of qualified experts, who can propose urgent new instruments with all the necessary technical details.
Although eurobonds are not the only viable solution, it is a good idea in terms of efficiency (unity in the face of world markets) and symbolism (in the face of citizens).
In any case, the EU must sent two important messages urgently.
The first message, one of hope, must truly speak to the ordinary citizen, to the peoples of Europe who are upset by the coronavirus crisis and worried about their future: the EU is here to help.
It is facing this health, social and economic crisis head-on, with greater unity and a great economic and social recovery project.
The second message must be addressed to the world at large: the EU guarantees unity, strength and stability of the eurozone, ensuring our “common sovereignty” (pace Macron) in the face of global markets and in the face of the powers that seek to divide and destroy the EU.
The US has underestimated the current pandemic, and its central administration has proven that it no longer holds the necessary political and moral authority to effectively coordinate the battle against the global coronavirus.
Only the EU, in a context of multilateral cooperation, can successfully step in and pave the road for the management of this unprecedented health crisis and its social and economic consequences .
The time has come for a new European patriotism. New, because it absolutely needs to be rooted both in national communities remobilised on the theme of solidarity, as well as in transnational networks.
The millions of committed citizens, volunteers, health workers and civil society associations are a solid human basis for a new phase of the idea of Europe. It’s time to link Europe’s core values to the technical and political capacity in an innovative way and offer the world a message of hope and strength against this unprecedented crisis.
Gesine Schwan is a former president of Viadrina University,Frankfurt, and twice candidate for the presidency of the German Federal Republic; Biagio De Giovanni, is former rector of the Eastern University of Naples and chairman of the European Parliament constitutional affairs committee; André Gerrits, University of Leiden ,Netherlands; Lucio Levi, University of Turin, director of The Federalist debate; Ferdinando Nelli Feroci, president of the Istituto Affari Internazionali, Rome; Ruth Rubio Marin is professor at the European University Institute and the University of Seville, Spain; Mario Telo, professor at LUISS-Rome and IEE-ULB; Luk Van Langenhove, professor at the Institute of European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Bussel, Brussels; Didier Viviers, president of the Royal Academy of Belgium and former rector of the Universté libre de Bruxelles; Michael Zurn, professor at Freie Universität and founding director of the Hertie School in Berlin; S. van Wijnbergen, professor University of Amsterdam, formerly secretary general of the ministry of economic affairs; Christian Lequesne, professor and chief editor of European Review of International Studies (ERIS); Bruno Van Pottelsberghe, professor Université libre de Bruxelles, former dean of the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management; Bertrand Badie professor Science po Paris; Christian Lequesne, professor sciences po et ancien directeur CERI; Camille Focant, professor Université Catholique de Louvain; Luc Soete, dean of the Institute of European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and former rector of Maastricht University.