European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen fears a loss of cohesion in the European Union due to the corona crisis. After the re-introduction of border controls in the face of the pandemic Europe is now “looking into the abyss,” according von der Leyen.
Von Der Leyen: EU’s Economic Divide Likely to Worsen
First and foremost, von der Leyen warned of a widening of the economic divide, especially with a view to Italy’s current situation. However, she also stressed progress in mutual aid and announced a common strategy to end the newly implement social distancing guidelines in EU countries.
Von der Leyen said she was reviewing with experts when one could gradually loosen the measures of social distance again. Nevertheless, she made it clear that this should not happen too soon. Otherwise, the risk that the virus would flare up again was too severe. On the other hand, a back to regular routine needed to be implemented as quickly as possible so that the European economy would not continue to suffer unnecessarily, though von der Leyen did not make any timeline predictions. In fact, nobody currently knew how long the current situation could last, and thus no precise date could be communicated. Instead, the Covid-19 situation was being re-examined every week.
Border Closures Not the Solution
Von der Leyen also observed that the border closures of individual EU countries have not stopped the coronavirus, but had hurt many companies and interrupted essential supply chains in Europe. Furthermore, it had been the internal market that made the EU so wealthy and secure to begin with. Now, however, there was a growing awareness that each EU country had better cards with mutual help, said von der Leyen. According to von der Leyen the current crisis is also a great opportunity for Europe to reinvent itself. Moreover, the EU also had control over whether the current crisis was causing the Union to break up. At first, many nations had looked into the abyss, but then member states had quickly seen the positive and the cohesion again in this crisis, she continued.
Von der Leyen did not accept criticism that the EU Commission was unable to act in the crisis. The trust of the member states was clear according to her, which was why the EU Council had entrusted the Commission with the exit strategy and the reconstruction plan. The letter would speak for itself.
Von der Leyen also resisted reports that the EU Commission was planning to utilize bonds in order to remain financially stable. There were “very clear legal limits,” which was why a bond was not part of the Commission’s plan. Von der Leyen expressed reluctance to the dispute between the EU countries over a joint borrowing in the form of Eurobonds in the crisis. This was particularly the case in the southern states, while Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, in particular, are opposed to it.
Von der Leyen said that Eurobonds were just a catchphrase and that the bigger question of liability was hidden behind it. Accordingly, the three states’ objections were justified. At the same time, she was concerned that the economic divide in the EU could worsen due to the crisis, despite the goal of Europe had always been to move closer together.
Italy, in particular, was in the crisis through no fault of its own and was severely hit economically, von Leyen said, and its healthy companies needed to be saved. The letter was precisely why the Commission received the mandate from the Council to draw up a reconstruction plan — which was precisely what the Commission is currently doing, von Leyen concluded.