The coronavirus crisis has exposed frailties but the EU’s regulatory superpower status will endureby Anu Bradford / May 6, 2020 / Leave a comment
The European Union’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been marked by insufficient acts of coordination and solidarity. Member states have turned inwards, closing their borders and curtailing medical exports. Italy has felt abandoned by its fellow Europeans while the attempts to craft a common fiscal response to the crisis has revived the well-rehearsed north-south battles over solidarity and sovereignty.
This feeble and fragmented response, coming on the heels of multiple other crises that the EU has endured in the past decade, has hastened the already prevalent narratives of growing disunity and inevitable decline. The grimmest projections predict a collapse of the monetary union or an eventual disintegration of the EU. A more common view portrays the EU as a powerless entity that has little to offer to its citizens. Its dwindling influence over world affairs, the argument goes, will further wither away with each crisis.
Yet this narrative is too quick to predict the erosion of the EU. It also rests on an outdated view of what power means in today’s world. There is an important aspect to the EU’s unity and global influence that remains robust, relevant, and largely unaffected by the crises—the unilateral ability to regulate global markets.
The EU regulations influence the everyday lives of individuals around the world. They affect the food we eat, the air we breathe and the products we produce and consume. Few realise that EU standards determine the default privacy settings on our iPhones or the type of speech that Twitter will delete as unacceptable. They also determine how timber is harvested in Indonesia, how honey is produced in Brazil, what pesticides cocoa farmers use in Cameroon, what equipment is used in dairy factories in China, what chemicals are used in plastic toys in Japan, as well as how much privacy is afforded to internet users in Latin America.
Despite its well-known inefficiencies, through its regulations, the EU wields unique and highly penetrating power to unilaterally transform global markets, making Brussels a major force in the global economy. All the EU needs to do is to regulate the single market. In search for scale economies and other benefits of uniform production, multinational companies often voluntarily standardise their global operations around the most stringent standard,…