“The Brussels Diary with Yana Toom”: European Union Vs. Coronavirus


An epidemic is almost like a war: you can blame everybody for it. On Monday, the new European Commission celebrated its first one hundred days and, in theory, should have reported on what has been done and what has not yet been done and why. During these one hundred days, Ursula von der Leyen promised a draft legal act guaranteeing fair minimum wages for EU employees. Right now, we have no time for that. Even without the coronavirus, we have a lot on our plate. Erdogan is threatening to let millions of refugees enter the EU and oil prices have collapsed. One thing after another; tomorrow has become unpredictable.

I do not want to alarm anybody, but according to the WHO’s assessment, the mortality rate from coronavirus is 3.4%. The mortality rate from the common seasonal flu is 0.1%. Therefore, the mortality rate from coronavirus is 34 times higher. True, these figures might not be precise; nevertheless, this cannot be considered ‘fake news’, as Trump is saying.

As horrible as it sounds, in democratic Italy the mortality rate is higher compared to the mortality rate in totalitarian China. It is clear that a totalitarian country can cope with crises more efficiently. We would all like for everybody to act as one during an epidemic. When it doesn’t, we face another virus – chaos and confusion. We could use a healthy centralisation of the EU.

One example: EU health ministers turned on each other because of medical face masks. Germany banned the export of masks and protective gear out of the country, and the French government took over the production of masks. Belgium, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Estonia and Austria ask, how so? Though we insist on solidarity, charity still begins at home? The Germans protect themselves by saying that if the EU partners request Germany to give masks, it would most likely say yes; however, the ban is necessary so that the priceless stocks of masks would not end up in the hands of speculators. Indeed, the fact that France and Germany have the highest number of cases in the EU, not considering Italy, is a good argument.

If the EU were federalised, there would be less mess. We do not want to be like the United States, where, according to the newspaper The Atlantic, it was promised to test a million and a half people in a week, but less than two thousand were tested, while every tenth was found to have coronavirus. The USA is not in a hurry to fight the outbreak and they may yet have to pay a high price for this. Let us add to this the possible bankruptcy of American companies involved in extracting tight oil, as it is most likely that they will not survive the current collapse in prices. So, an economic crisis is quite possible. I am afraid that by the autumn we will be living in a much different world.

Still, the question remains as to what place the EU will have in this world.

Until then, no need to panic. Wash your hands and, if you get sick, carry a mask; avoid large crowds and, if necessary, God forbid, see a doctor.

Be well and we will meet again in a week.