What few seem to register is the complete failure of Europe’s political class in 2020, not to mention the missed opportunities that the COVID crisis offered. This is not only with regard to health, but the economy and climate change as well.
Mathew D. Rose is an Investigative Journalist specialised in Organised Political Crime in Germany and an editor of BRAVE NEW EUROPE
This article gives the views of the author and not those of BRAVE NEW EUROPE
It is interesting to compare how media reports on events in the EU and Britain. While in Britain the government’s incompetence in dealing with the pandemic is being held up to robust scrutiny , within the EU, beyond the nuances of party politics, the same chaos that currently reigns there is being packaged as successful policy. The fact is, there is no real policy, because the political class in Europe knows only one policy, neo-liberalism, which has no answers to the current crises Europe is facing. So why is there such a difference between the perception of government handling of these crises in the UK and EU? This is only possible because EU politics is based upon a very simple principle: believing in fairies.
The COVID crisis is exemplary. In winter 2020 the EU egregiously failed in this emergency, as national governments took the reins into their own hands throwing all the “noble accomplishments of the EU” overboard: unilaterally closing borders, trashing “European solidarity” by refusing to share medical supplies with those nations most affected, even stealing supplies in transit. Brussels was not even part of the discussion. Thus there was no EU pandemic policy, that would have been crucial to developing a coordinated strategy to deal with the crisis within the EU and with other nations and international travel.
The development of the pandemic was determined by elements that we still do not understand. While nations like Italy and Spain initially suffered terribly, Germany, Sweden, and the Eastern European countries were less affected. For these nations this phenomenon could only be explained by exceptionalism – robust, hardy races not affected by Southern European decadence. That fairy tale has in the meantime landed in the bin, as even in Germany the current COVID-death rate is as high as in Trump’s USA and much higher than in Spain or Italy. In defiant Sweden the COVID daily mortality rate is now dramatically worse than all of these.
In March, warned by epidemiologists that the situation was unstable and heading toward disaster many European governments unhappily sent their populations into lockdown while business interests were incandescent that governments were prioritising the health of citizens over the health of business. Economic programmes, many of which were and are still economically incomprehensible, were initiated to assuage major corporations, the clientele of Europe’s political class.
The assumption of European governments was that the economy would go briefly into deep-freeze, but would be thawed and up and running normally in a few months. This can be termed “The war will be over by Christmas” syndrom. There was the usual posturing as a grand EU COVID economic emergency package was declared. Although many economists criticised this was much too little, would be dispersed much too late, and contained the poison pill of austerity, there followed the usual hyperbolic fairy narrative of the EU and corporate media, culminating in the enchanted “Hamiltonian Moment” (does anyone still remember that?).
The reasoning for the lockdown in many European nations was twofold: to stop the spread of the virus and to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, as had already occurred in Italy and Spain, until a vaccination arrived. It was a credible health policy and proved successful. By May the pandemic was under control. The number of COVID cases had dropped dramatically.
What followed however was a tale out of fairyland. While epidemiologist warned that this success would be followed by a second COVID wave, governments in Europe changed their discourse and pretended the lockdown had been the cure and one need not wait for the vaccine. The fairies would take care of things until then. Thus they allowed the population of Europe, and most of the world for that matter, to run wild. This was no longer Never Never Land incompetence, this was blatantly criminal.
It is worth examining why this happened. First, it was the realisation of the “Deep Freeze” concept of the EU political class. Taking care of its citizens with lockdowns, furlough schemes, and other programmes was proving expensive and the austerians were already shouting “How are we going to pay for this?”. Thus it was decided that the dramatic recession of the first two quarters of 2020 would now be followed by a V-Recovery – no matter how many lives it cost.
The German government – and who really counts in the EU besides Germany – had been pouring billions into its travel and holiday industry to keep it on life support. It had given Lufthansa alone nine billion euros (much of which ironically is being used to make staff redundant). These companies had to be reactivated.
Then there was the EU circular economy. Tourists in the North spend massive amounts of money in Southern Europe for summer holidays, that then returns to the North to purchase cars, lorries, machines, etc. If the summer tourism season was cancelled – well EU politicians did not know what they would do – so they encouraged everyone to go on holiday, lifting most travel bans and half-heartedly enforcing those that remained.
Second was the business lobby, which could not understand why politicians had put a few thousand lives ahead of their profits. For them, this was simply socialist sentimentalism, which they believed had been banned from Europe a couple of decades ago thanks to the EU. Why had governments financially run down their health systems if they were going to make a u-turn at the first piddling pandemic?
Third was the entitled class. We would know nothing about who was travelling in the previous summer was it not for an arcane study by the Austrian academics Thomas Plümper and Eric Neumayer entitled “School holidays accounted for up to half of the increase in Covid-19 infections in Germany over the summer”. Behind the innocuous title are two interesting statements: That the number of infections in Germany resulting from foreign holidays “understate the effect of holidaymaking via second-order infections”. In other words, only those who were infected while on holiday were counted, not those infected by the returning holiday makers. Furthermore, the authors discovered that in Germany “the holiday effects are stronger in districts that are richer and in which foreigners make up a larger share of the resident population”. Their conclusion is: “The school summer holiday effects were entirely predictable and yet public health authorities largely failed to mitigate the impact.”
While politicians and corporate media blamed the second COVID wave on young people partying, this too seems to be a tale of the fairies. There is an entitled class in Europe that believes they are above rules and laws, and I do not mean just the “one percent”. How many government office-holders and technocrats have had to resign (or not) for breaking the lock down rules they had just imposed on their populace, the reporting of which was much more prevalent in the UK than the EU. The entitled class is the group with the most political clout in Europe after corporations.
The second COVID wave wasn’t due to hedonistic kids, it was to a large extent a class phenomenon. Many of the entitled class in Europe have second homes in Southern Europe. Not only for their pleasure, but also as an investment, through rentals.
Admittedly this is anecdotal evidence, but it shows how capable the entitled class is of asserting its privileges. Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on 15 April to a Germany still in lockdown of “fragile intermediate success” that had been achieved in the fight against the pandemic. A week later there were Spanish media reports that “Hundreds of Germans who have second homes in Majorca have written to President Francina Armengol demanding to be allowed to return to the island.” It was the usual bullying of the entitled class: “rule of law”, “we are the taxpayers”, “tourists can undoubtedly be dispensed with for a year because they will return, but investors will not”, etc. Many couldn’t be bothered composing their letter themselves, instead using a form letter that the Germans had shared with one another. Purportedly the Spanish national government, a coalition of social democrats and leftists, intervened and the Majorcan borders were opened. If you are a PIIGS nation you don’t mess with the Germans.
The idea of sending millions of Europeans throughout the whole of the continent although it was clear that the pandemic was in no case under control, as well as knowing of the possibility of new strains, was a criminal act. But with their corporate paymasters fed up with politicians pandering to public health and the entitled class clamouring for its privileges, who could resist? Certainly not the European political class. Nowhere will we see public prosecutors bringing charges of manslaughter against these politicians.
So now we have a second COVID wave, much worse than the first, and a third wave has already commenced. In much of European mainstream media the impression is given that European governments are initiating successful policies, but their citizens are sabotaging these policies (which often are a u-turn from yesterday’s successful policy, but everything is possible in fairyland) with their recklessness. And as bad as things may be in Europe and the UK, one only had to look at the cataclysm created in the US by that madman Trump and those “deplorable” Americans. The facts tell a different story. According to the Johns Hopkins University Corona Research Center statistics from 5 January, Belgium, Slovenia, Italy, the United Kingdom, Czechia, Bulgaria, and Spain have had more deaths per 100,000 population than the US. Hungary, Croatia, and France are not far behind. In fact the EU, with round 85 Covid deaths per 100,000 population as a whole is rapidly closing in on the US with 107 per 100,000. So obviously Trump is doing a better job than many of his “competent” EU counterparts.
The story is long from over. At the end of 2020 the news in mainstream media seemed to be that we would all be vaccinated and the pandemic was over. 2021 was going to be better. Never Never Land was back. Holidays on the beach were just around the corner. Tour operators reported record bookings for summer 2021. That fairy tale has bitten the dust as well. Not only do we have the second and third COVID wave, but the EU and its member states appear to be producing further chaos with the vaccination programme. There is no real end in sight, just the next fairy tale.
Then there is the economy. Beyond their frozen, but oven ready return to normality little is occurring. The EU is relying on exports and the monetary policy of the European Central Bank to run the show. The German government, which is facing elections in September has thrown a lot of money at the problem, but there is no investment programme, just “keep em smiling” billions for those who donate and vote for them, extending the furlough programme until shortly after the election, and suspending the insolvency laws so that the fairy tale of “we have everything under control” is not spoilt by reality.
European governments have absolutely no exit strategy besides “A fairy will wave its wand across Europe and everything will return to the way it was and we shall re-introduce austerity to pay down the COVID debts”. Economists are warning of serious scarring to the economy due to the pandemic, whose end is not really in sight. Governments have no concept of what this could mean, nor of economics it seems.
After its incessant failures one is justified in asking if the EU will be up to dealing with the more major climate crisis. This however is under the assumption that the EU really wants to stop global warming, which it doesn’t. That would negatively affect their paymasters , the large corporations.
There is a massive EU investment programme just waiting for a prince’s kiss to be awakened, but the wicked witch of the North is doing all she can to prevent this: a Green New Deal. Eventually EU citizens will discover that behind the vapid so-called EU “Green Deal” is the German “Braun Deal”. But that is a fairy tale for another bedtime.
So everything is great in the EU. Its populace it happy and healthy, not to mention in the best of hands. The only thing the EU political class has to fear is that its citizens will grow up and stop believing in fairies.
The newest EU documentary on the EU’s pandemic policy