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The European and international dimensions of the Covid pandemic crisis

Soazig de la Moissonnière

In November 2020, the Secretary General of the European Democratic Party and Chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly (France), Marielle de Sarnez, launched a fact-finding mission on the European and international situation of the crisis linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A report following this mission has just been submitted to the French National Assembly ( available here in French).

Suddenly, the Covid-19 virus affected countries around the world, crippling economies and spreading fear and uncertainty. In the face of an unprecedented crisis that rapidly evolved from a health crisis to an economic, social and, probably, democratic crisis, not all countries reacted at the same speed or in the same way.

The President of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Marielle de Sarnez, has launched a fact-finding mission to try to learn, in real time, the lessons of this global upheaval. Currently, in December 2020, the report proposes some ideas for reflection: it is absolutely essential to take the measure of all the differences between countries in order to understand what the strengths and weaknesses of each have been and to orient oneself for the future. We will not be able to emerge from this crisis in a better position without feedback.

Comparing the strategies of several states is not a matter of awarding good or bad points. Demography, geography, socio-economic situation, mentalities are all factors that make up the specificity of a country. The aim of comparison is not to identify measures that work: there is no point in reproducing, as it stands, a pattern of action in another place. Nor do all countries have the same experience of crisis management. South Korea, for example, had experience of the SARS and MERS pandemics which it had been able to draw on by developing significant intergovernmental coordination. However, the report seeks to put the many factors into perspective by comparing the choices made, in order to understand their strengths and limitations. It emerges from this comparison that reaction time is a key element.

Public confidence plays a key role in the effectiveness of the policies implemented. Similarly, a fundamental principle must guide political decision-making: prudence, a form of practical wisdom.

The crisis has been a revelation of pre-existing fragilities. People in precarious situations have been much more affected. The confinements have revealed a high level of social violence: poor housing has emerged in all its reality. For migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, exposure to risk is obviously increased. From one country to another, vulnerability is not equivalent. In conflict zones, the danger is permanent. By spreading to all areas of the globe, the crisis will accentuate inequalities. Situations of psychological distress can become dramatic. According to the IMF, 90 million people in the world could fall into extreme poverty in 2020 alone.

Our relationship to space and time is changing. In times of pandemic, we have to accept certain constraints. Temporarily, we have to assume that we can introduce controls at national borders to stop the spread of the virus.

This in no way implies isolation: quite the contrary, no country will emerge from the crisis alone. Cooperation and coordination are absolutely essential, at European and international level. The European Union, all of whose members were affected by the pandemic at close quarters, initially found it difficult to tackle this crisis and to organise real solidarity between states. The European Union showed a lack of anticipation. Marielle de Sarnez had already noticed this flaw by delivering, in 2018, an opinion on the draft law for controlled immigration and an effective right of asylum. The health crisis has raised the vital question of the European Union's vocation: to federate the nation-states by sharing a common vision.

The WHO must also learn the lessons of this pandemic, and reform itself accordingly, for better coordination and increased investment in research. More broadly, it is multilateralism as a whole that needs to be reinvented: international trade, tourism, digital technology, or the defence of global public goods such as health or the environment, all of which will be at the heart of tomorrow's multilateralism. In particular, the crisis reminds us of the need to promote more qualitative and sustainable tourism, which would be more respectful of tourist sites and their inhabitants.

Marielle de Sarnez underlines an imperative: for Europe, the economic development of the countries located in its immediate vicinity is more than ever a priority. Refocusing our value chains more towards Africa and particularly North Africa is essential in key sectors such as health, digital and renewable energies.

The consequences of the crisis are not yet all known. In any case, the construction of European strategic autonomy, the reform of the WHO and the future of our public development aid are lines of force to be pursued.