With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

How Did the E.U. Get the Coronavirus So Wrong?

The difference between the crisis in Europe and elsewhere is that Italy and Spain are parts of the European Union, the world’s largest experiment in political integration. And in this pandemic, it doesn’t appear to be living up to its ideals: A union that speaks often of solidarity between peoples initially saw little solidarity. A union often reproached for technocracy showed none of it. A union built on the freedom of movement of people and goods has become a chaotic continent of closed borders and export bans.

Even though European Union institutions quickly moved to undo member countries’ selfish restrictions on movement, much of the damage had been done, and Italians welcomed donations of medical supplies from China before they got them from Germany. Some may say that this proves that the European Union itself is failing its citizens. That idea might be especially attractive in countries like Italy and Spain that have yet to recover from the eurozone crisis and European-mandated austerity.

So when it comes to public health, how did European Union get it so wrong? And what can be done to make sure a similar disaster is averted in the future?

The truth is that when it comes to public health, the Union has done what its member nations wanted it to do: not much. For years, European governments have kept Brussels out of health care and public health whenever possible. They have resisted everything from shared standards of care to electronic health records to allowing patients free access to the health care systems of other countries. Under the bloc’s constitutional treaties, action on public health is meant to be optional and driven by member states, and health care is a member state responsibility. A disease in animals can be met with forceful E.U. action, but it can’t if it becomes a human health problem.

That led Europe to where it is today, unprepared for a crisis that is crossing borders.

Read entire article at New York Times