The European Union, Brexit, and Covid-19


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Europe’s 750 million citizens face a horrific new-normal, where the coronavirus has not only killed more than 160,000 people in the EU bloc but has created an economic train wreck. Almost as significantly, it has put paid to the "dream" of some Europeans for a United States of Europe with each of the 27 members pulling together with common economic, monetary, foreign affairs and social policies. It may be too soon to start preparing the obituary of the European Union and, with it, the death of the euro. But the European project is in trouble, both within the bloc and between it and major trading partners, especially the United States, China and Russia. The new leaders of the three major institutions - the Council of Ministers, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank - have been unable to agree the details of a Eurobond or other rescue package to help the hardest hit people or sectors of the Union. There is tension between north and south, notably between the wealthiest country, Germany, and Spain and Italy, the two worst affected nations. There are rising forces of nationalism in Italy and in some of the former Warsaw Pact countries that border Russia. Russia itself has been badly affected with strongman Vladimir Putin going to ground while blaming Europe for the spread of the virus. Nearly all of Europe’s airline industry is grounded, while Airbus Industrie, one of the continent’s biggest employers, has seen its order books empty and is planning a large number of redundancies. Meanwhile, relations between Brussels and the United Kingdom are even worse now than they were during the three-year-long Brexit negotiations. Several rounds of talks by video link on a new comprehensive trade deal have made no progress, and the prospects of a deal before the end-of-year deadline are diminishing. In London, Boris Johnson’s Tory government has lost the popularity that swept it in to an 80-strong majority last October, having mishandled the coronavirus crisis. What is in store for Europe in the months to come?

Colin Chapman is Europe-based fellow of the Australian Institute of International Affairs and former president of the New South Wales branch of the institute. He is a former BBC economics correspondent, CNN commentator and senior executive of the Financial Times.

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