Thursday

22nd Oct 2020

Opinion

Coronavirus: A test of the West

  • Effectively tackling the medical, social and economic implications of the pandemic is perhaps the greatest test the West has faced since World War II (Photo: Hospital Clínic)

We live in times not long ago unimaginable in terms of challenges for each and every one of us as individuals, for our societies and institutions.

We are experiencing the first global pandemic unfolding in the 24/7news cycle and taking its toll, in real time, on our daily lives, our financial security and the global economy.

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As a European, I am witnessing firsthand how the epidemic impacts citizens on our continent.

It is also my job and responsibility to be particularly concerned for Romanians living and working abroad, including temporary workers in other European Union countries.

I know they, like their employers, expect decision-makers to protect them. They also want us to make sure their livelihoods still hold a promise after the epidemic.

Beyond this, we also see worldwide how this pandemic has evolved into a test for our democratic systems and some of their fundamentals.

The Covid-19 crisis has pushed us to rethink connectivity in all dimensions, on both sides of the Atlantic.

The free movement of people, goods and ideas – the nerves that kept our world in motion – has started facing baffling setbacks.

These times of restraints and uncertainty may stem democracies from thriving and may bring inevitable if temporary limitations upon our democratic societies.

Our democratic values, no matter how deeply rooted in our common thinking, will be inevitably challenged by the temporary physical limits put in place in the face of this invisible enemy.

It is our mission to step up efforts nationally and at EU level to reassure Europe's citizens.

We must act to protect the social fabric of our built-in democratic interdependence, safeguard the freedom of movement of essential goods and provide real prospects for resuming the freedom of movement of people as soon as possible.

Effectively tackling the medical, social and economic implications of the pandemic is perhaps the greatest test the West has faced since World War II.

While domestic measures are critical to keeping worrying trends at manageable levels, it is joint leadership, solidarity and cooperation that will ultimately define the outcome and help our democracies come out stronger.

With fellow foreign ministers in the EU and Nato, we are taking steps to adapt decision-making process and maintain our capacity to address possible cascading difficulties up front.

Joint decisions and cooperation have already facilitated the emergency repatriation of hundreds of thousands of stranded European and American citizens to their homes and loved ones.

We have tried to keep critical transport corridors and borders open for medical and other essential supplies. The EU has been instrumental in ensuring the free flow of goods, and thus vital economic continuity.

The EU mechanism for civilian protection and the EU consular coordination have allowed for logistical and financial support to the direct benefit of our most affected citizens.

Nato also plays an essential role, through response instruments put in place over the last decades, like the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre or the Strategic Airlift Capability.

My own country, Romania, was the first to access Nato's Strategic Airlift Capability, which allowed us to import crucial medical supplies from the Republic of Korea.

Europe and the US have already adopted and are preparing more economic packages and fiscal measures. The EU has several multi billion programs approved on top of EU member states' own measures. The US economic relief legislative package provides two trillion dollars.

United we stand, divided we fall

We cannot afford to act dividedly nor diminish our democracies

One of the most valuable lessons we are now learning is that the institutions created in the liberal world at the end of World War II, like Nato and the EU, are challenged in terms of swift and sound decision-making capacities in Black Swan-like scenarios.

Providing a credible response to immediate and long-term challenges, to the direct benefit and security of our citizens, requires fast-forward adjustments and political will to streamline our rapid reaction capabilities.

What our citizens need to feel now, when they are burdened by insecurity on so many levels, is that they can truly and fully rely on our European and Euro-Atlantic institutions, like on their own very close family, for the reassuring feeling of trust and security.

I have confidence that once again we will acknowledge that there is opportunity in crisis. We need to make our European and Euro-Atlantic institutions more effective as a result of this crucial test.

Once again, we will come to realise that the EU and Nato, beyond their importance and effectiveness for the purpose they serve, form an enduring community of values which cannot afford to act dividedly.

If the current test is to be won by the two sides of the Atlantic together, we need renewed trust in the West and the democratic values it stands for.

This is why the strength of the transatlantic link is crucial for our Western civilisation. We need to prove, once again, that the transatlantic partnership is of essential value to our people, communities and businesses.

After this period of disruption, global connectivity needs to be revitalised and strengthened, even if resuming free travel and exchanges will be a gradual process.

Times of sacrifice call for real leadership of thought and action and I am confident that a huge part of the solution is represented by the consolidation of our democratic beliefs.

Once this crisis is over, they must not be diminished or abandoned, but to the contrary, all the more strengthened so that they will drive the restart of Western history.

Precisely in times of hardship and in the absence of some of the fundamentals we take for granted, we come to acknowledge their true value, meaning and impact on our lives.

I am part of the generation of citizens in Central and Eastern Europe who have invested the best of their abilities for their countries to join the European and Euro-Atlantic institutions.

I am part of a European nation that had experienced the deadly effect of the symbiosis between dictatorship and privation. This generation now has another call, and this time the stake might by higher.

We need to maintain our humanity in face of the grim cost and unavoidable tragedy of this crisis. Remember deeply and collectively what we stand for. Share full responsibility in safeguarding our way of life, and our democratic freedoms.

Author bio

Bogdan Aurescu is minister of foreign affairs of Romania.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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