Sense of control over coronavirus will expedite its politicization
We are still in the early stages of the coronavirus crisis. The total number of infection cases globally– which stand at 700,000 today – is expected to hit seven digits soon. To be clear, the pandemic has not peaked yet. Although people around the world are desperate to return to their normal lives, experts believe the coronavirus won’t reach its peak for another two weeks and the emergence will continue for no less than two more months.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who leads the world’s hardest-hit nation, has long reversed his original policy of inaction. He revealed the pandemic’s true severity when he said that stopping the death toll at 100,000 to 200,000 would be an accomplishment. The fact that the world’s wealthiest nations are still struggling to keep the outbreak under control complicates efforts to predict the future.
There is an overlap between the crisis itself and post-crisis management. The U.S., which accuses China of hiding the virus outbreak and throwing the world under the bus, plans to sue Beijing for trillions of dollars. At the same time, the White House, stressing the importance of international cooperation, announced that Washington imported 20 planeloads of medical supplies from China to better equip American health care providers. Trump knows too well that he cannot simply blame hundreds of thousands of deaths on the “Chinese virus.” He continues to politicize the virus and keeps buying desperately-needed supplies. Everything about the Trump administration’s current approach indicates that the politicization of the coronavirus, which has been happening throughout the crisis, won’t stop now. If anything, it will gain traction.
The process of politicization has evolved into a leadership contest and a propaganda war between the U.S. and China. Recalling that the 2008 financial crisis benefited Beijing, the U.S. media warns Washington to seize this opportunity to improve its reputation. Failure to manage the coronavirus crisis through global cooperation, it seems, will hurt the European Union more than others.
We have no way of knowing how much the world will change after coronavirus. It becomes clearer, however, that the European Union cannot keep going like this. One aspect of the pandemic’s impact on Europe is that Italy and Spain experienced more fatalities than any other country, as their fellow EU members refused to help. Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Salvini heavily criticized the organization, which he likened to a “den of snakes and jackals,” over its inaction: “First let’s beat the virus, then think about Europe again. And, if necessary, say goodbye. Without even thanking it.” Bear in mind the footage of Italians burning the EU flag as you read Salvini’s statement.
Yet the EU’s deepening crisis isn’t limited to the medical emergency.
The prospect of overcoming the coronavirus pandemic adds to the importance of a second aspect – the post-crisis economy. Italy’s current Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, thus highlights the importance of economic recovery, urging Germany and the Netherlands to part ways with their old ways of thinking. His government wants the EU to take extraordinary measures and deliver a strong and united response to the coronavirus crisis. Conte’s main problem is that Germany and the Netherlands are blocking a financial aid package that Italy requires. He argues that the coronavirus outbreak represents a historic challenge for the entire continent and urges the EU to overcome the crisis through an “all for one” spirit. Failure to take action, Conte warns, could result in a total loss of trust in the EU among Italians and fuel the rise of far-right movements across the continent.
In other words, the million-dollar question is how the EU will manage the coronavirus pandemic’s disastrous economic impact and who will pick up the check. Mediterranean nations like Italy and Spain, whose economies weren’t in great shape, to begin with, turn to Northern Europe, starting with Germany and the Netherlands, for a solution. It goes without saying that neither country is eager to cover the costs of the economic recovery. Going forward, the current disagreement could lead to a serious dispute between Southern and Northern Europe.
Ursula von der Leyen, who took over as president of the European Commission in December, hopes that the crisis will give Europe a fresh opportunity to rediscover itself. To prove her right, Germany must shoulder a very heavy burden.
Humanity’s growing sense of control over the pandemic will expedite the politicization of the coronavirus.
This article was first published by Daily Sabah on April 01, 2020.