Only concerted economic measures will prevent further disillusionment with the blocby Luigi Scazzieri / April 3, 2020 / Leave a comment
The coronavirus crisis may be unprecedented in living memory, but for many Italians the EU’s reaction has been no surprise. After the migration and eurozone crises, the EU’s initially poor response has reinforced concerns that the bloc is unwilling to help when Italy is most in need. Italy is the European country that has been hardest hit by the pandemic, with almost 14,000 deaths. After over three weeks of “lockdown” measures, there are signs that the rate of spread is slowing, but restrictions will need to remain for many weeks, if not months, strangling the economy.
European leaders must overcome their divisions and step up their efforts to minimise the fallout of the crisis, or Italy could easily disrupt the functioning of the Union. Over the past decade, Italy has gone from one of the most enthusiastic supporters of greater European integration to one of the most Eurosceptic member states. Many Italians felt that their country did not receive much European solidarity during its moments of need. This shift in public sentiment has been reflected in a rise of nationalism and Euroscepticism, with Matteo Salvini’s right-wing anti-immigration League among the main beneficiaries.
The way other EU countries initially responded to Italy’s coronavirus plight has shaped the narrative of the crisis and played into the hands of the Eurosceptics. In late February, Italy requested assistance, but no member state offered immediate assistance. Instead, several banned the export of essential medical equipment, fearing they would need it themselves. By contrast, Russia and China were only too happy to send medical equipment or teams of doctors to assist Italy. Even though these were self-interested public relations moves, Eurosceptic politicians were quick to praise them, arguing this proved European solidarity was a myth.
The EU has made up for its early missteps. The European Central Bank launched a €750bn Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme, which can be used to buy Italian debt. The European Commission has persuaded member states to lift bans on the export of medical equipment, and suspended its rules on budget deficit limits and state aid. And several member states are now providing Italy with essential medical supplies and treating Italian patients in their hospitals.
Nevertheless, the risk is that much…