Times like these test leaders. In a world full of fear and noise, a small group is called upon to take decisions that will determine the fate of their people. No one was elected on the basis of their program for dealing with a pandemic but their legacy will depend on how they handled this threat to all of us. Their decisions will either alleviate the damage or compound it. What they do today may determine the future. Old methods and formulas will not work. What is needed is speed, determination, discipline and imagination – a difficult combination when everyone would like time to study, to compare alternative proposals. This is a heavy responsibility.
In the European Union we are fortunate to live in countries that adhere to the principles of “inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law,” as the preamble to the EU Treaty puts it. These values and the EU’s history also constitute the framework for saving the Union and each of its member-states.
Since 1951, when France and Germany agreed to the joint exploitation of coal and steel production, the project has aimed at removing sources of friction so as to overcome the nationalism that stoked perennial war. Cooperation and solidarity are a one-way street: Without them there is no Union. The same applies to democracy and human rights: Whichever country violates these principles has no place in the Union, whether it is a member-state, as in the case of Hungary, or a candidate for accession.
At this emotionally charged time, there are fears that the European Union may be threatened by disagreements over how the catastrophic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic will be dealt with. Everyone, however, agrees on the need for a new “Marshall Plan.” The disagreements over mechanisms and procedures will be overcome through negotiation and the customary process of compromise – the Merkel method.
The Union evolves through crisis and compromise. The proposals made public by the French government on Thursday, along with hints of an apparent change of heart in Germany and the Netherlands, support this belief.
Some leaders are now called on to abandon powerful dogma, others must overcome the emotions of the moment. Together they must work out solutions that will benefit their peoples and the Union.
This time, help will not be coming from the United States. This is a step towards the Union’s maturity.