The European Commission DG NEAR and the office of the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy released a new policy statement (‘Communication’) ‘Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood: A New Agenda for the Mediterranean’ on 9 February 2021. The Communication was accompanied by a staff working document ‘Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood Economic and Investment Plan for the Southern Neighbours’. The priorities outlined in the Communication and the investment Plan are to be concretised during 2021 as the new ‘Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI), which will finance the EU’s international cooperation, is programmed during 2021.
Governments in the Middle East and in North Africa (MENA) are tackling the pandemic in different ways, many challenged by weak social systems and growing societal frustrations. In relatively prosperous (middle-income) countries – such as Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq – leaders have used the pandemic as an excuse to suppress justified protests at their lack of accountability and failure to provide basic services. For international cooperation, which supports the functioning of legitimate, accountable governments and resilient societies, this poses a critical challenge – as the case of Lebanon currently illuminates.
Beginning in July, Germany will hold the European Council Presidency until the end of the year, a term that will be characterised by the effects of the corona pandemic and the efforts to manage it. The Council Presidency should be used to mould the processes of the EU recovery plan and the MFF in a way that delivers decisive impulses for an orientation towards climate and sustainability goals. A further summit of the EU heads of state and government will take place in July, tasked with reaching agreement on the EU recovery plan.
The EU project is often described as an eternal work in progress, a “beautiful yet still incomplete masterpiece”, primarily because of its inability, with a few exceptions, to reach shared decisions, thus effectively exercising its full power potential. It has been said that the European Union could “potentially” become a fully-fledged member of the looming multi-polar system of global governance, provided that it not only develops its economic power, which is insufficient on its own, but also diplomatic, informational and military capabilities.
The full extent of COVID-19’s impact on global geopolitical balances cannot yet be assessed. Nevertheless, a number of trends are clearly emerging and these have already upset a number of balances which previously seemed unchangeable. COVID-19 is evidently not the cause of such changes, which had been well underway before the outbreak, but the pandemic has become a litmus test that has further thrust these developments under the political spotlight.
European governments and citizens cannot allow the COVID-19 emergency to (re)determine our identity and interests, erecting national barriers or trade wars. The crisis can bring us together or tear us apart, but the ultimate responsibility will rest on people, the leaders and citizens of Europe, who can determine how we will emerge from this pandemic and redefine what it means to be “European”.
The European project was built on the ashes of two world wars. The ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the most devastating pandemic afflicting humankind in the last century, may be its undoing. Or can it become the catalyst for building a stronger European Union for the future? The jury is still out.
If there is one thing to learn and treasure from the devastating experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is the need to rethink the way communities and societies need to come together into a renewed social contract, that no longer hides the deep inequalities of the ‘old’ normal.
COVID19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus that has rapidly turned into a pandemic, could be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. The international liberal order, as well as the European Union within it, has been in trouble for years now. The EU has been shaken by the successive Eurozone and migration crises, while its surrounding regions were spiralling into conflict and outright collapse. COVID19 could be the final nail in the coffin of a rules-based international order and the European project within it. But it could also give birth to a new phoenix rising from its ashes. Much will depend on how Europe, both internally and internationally, will confront this epochal crisis.
The novel coronavirus is keeping the world in suspense. Infection rates are rising exponentially in many countries. The isolated and lock-down measures taken by numerous states are having a massive impact on virtually all areas of economic and social life. They go hand in hand with a growing sense of uncertainty among the general public.