On 21 July, Europeans agreed on an ambitious and innovative €750bn plan to support and revive the economy which has been seriously affected by the aftermath of the health crisis.
The EU can afford to commit such a sum because its wealth lies in its large single market, i.e. applying the same rules under the same jurisdiction to people, goods, and services moving freely across the continent.
Yet some Member States, out of ideology, grandstanding or incompetence, in their fight against Covid-19, has suspended free movement and have withdrawn behind their national borders.
Never has a virus been seen to respect borders. Neither has this one, any more than any other. But all too often we see failing politicians, turning to them for support. This was the case with the refugee crisis; it has also been the unpleasant surprise of the health crisis.
Hungary, Poland, and Belgium have not hesitated to take national decisions without consulting their partners. They have the legal right to do so, but by doing this they are endangering the very way that the single market operates. Moreover, Austria, for example, paralyzed the movement of Europeans in August by applying ridiculous controls on people transiting through its territory.
None of these countries has escaped the recession, which they made even worse by their restrictive measures. They also selected among their neighbors those they would exempt, hence further violating the community spirit.
We might ask the question:
Should the benefits of the European recovery plan not be conditioned to taking another step forward, since the harmonization of health decisions impacts free movement?
The European Commission, together with Germany and France, is proposing to move forward in this sense. We must now decide.
The Member States cannot demand to have their cake and eat it too.
Those who keep their borders closed to their European partners should pay the price and be excluded from the benefits of the recovery plan. This might be an incentive to finally move towards a more efficient European healthcare system.
If the international context becomes tougher and finally forces Europe to do more to defend and promote its interests, the same applies internally. To prevent a slow and gradual erosion of what makes the Union strong – its solidarity, its unity, and the good faith required between partners – it is time to be more demanding of one another. We were obliged to accept the agreement of the “cheap states” in July in a negotiation that was far too reminiscent of the Oriental bazaars. Let’s not sacrifice recent European progress to States that continue to have their citizens believe that they are more efficient on their own.
Article written by: Jean Dominique Giuliani