A Historic Test for the EU

In the moment of a tragic downturn, every individual and every community – whether national, regional or civilizational, political, economic, religious or cultural – will be put to the test. As far as the European Union is concerned, the COVID-19 outbreak relentlessly sheds light on the current effectiveness of European cooperation. This is a decisive moment. This is the time when it turns out how efficient the leadership of our institutions are.

It is now that we find out whether all those measures the EU implemented in the past years are serving the best interest of our community, i.e. every member state and indeed, every one of our citizens regardless of which corner of our continent they reside. This is the time when it becomes apparent how good Europeans really are at putting solidarity into action. For solidarity has been a guiding principle of the EU ever since the founding fathers embracing Christian-Social thought placed it at the heart of post-war European cooperation.

Unfortunately, the EU has an awful accumulated record of accomplishment in managing crises of the past few decades. Just in the most recent past, the EU made a complete mess of the financial crisis unfolding in 2008 that hit European businesses, consumers and member states alike pushing many to the brink of bankruptcy, insolvency, and perpetual indebtedness, putting even the hitherto greatest economic achievement of the EU, the common currency at risk. The disastrous repercussions of the economic mismanagement are still lasting in many of the countries of the EU’s periphery.

European solidarity, concerted action and crisis management again left a lot to be desired at the time when migration hit the Southern boundaries of the European continent, putting another grand project of European cooperation, Schengen at risk. We can only hope that after its undetermined perplexity the Commission and the Council can act quickly and efficiently in response to the complex challenges posed by the pandemic. We can only hope that after a series of blunders in the past decades the EU has learned from its mistakes and will make the necessary institutional reforms to improve its reaction speed and bravado.

Failure to act in time of crisis can cost the European project dearly by undermining trust in European institutions. As history has demonstrated on many occasions, if established institutions cannot provide the necessary and immediate help to citizens, there is a risk of ditching those institutions and turning to solutions that appear simpler, clearer and more efficient. Moreover, we should not delude ourselves: adversaries of European cooperation are already on the scene, waiting to take over and offer their populist-authoritarian agenda as an alternative. It is now that we can decide whether the future of Europe will be built on solidarity, and a mutually beneficial cooperation between democratic states or, alternatively, on self-seeking, authoritarian regimes.

If we opt for the former, we have to get down to reforming our institutions that have long been synonymous with inefficiency. The good news is, we do not have to re-invent the wheel, just tread on the pass marked out by the founding fathers. Let us make it happen.   


Márton Gyöngyösi


Published on www.gyongyosimarton.com