An Anchor or a Compass – the European Union in a Crisis Situation*
The discussion of any topic in the European Union starts with the question: what is the legal basis here? Which article of the Treaty on European Union provides the framework for joint action? In other words, what jurisdiction have the supreme decision makers in the EU – the Member States – granted the EU institutions?
Regarding public health, just monitoring the situation and facilitating the cooperation of Member States if necessary; it remains the competence of Member States, and they jealously safeguard their sovereignty. The same applies to closing of borders, which the sovereign Member States carried out in full compliance with the Schengen regulation. According to the regulation, the role of the Commission and other Member States is limited to taking note of the information. No approval by Ursula von der Leyen or any other official in Brussels is needed.
There has always been a strong political will to keep the European Union united and functioning. In the coronavirus crisis, the European Commission started the first joint procurement of medical supplies on 28 February. Financial measures were launched on 16 March, four days after the Member States had taken first steps in shutting down their economies. In record time, the Governments were given free hands to choose the steps to help their companies that were in trouble. The state aid and fiscal rules, often called the Procrustean bed by national sovereignty zealots, were relaxed to the maximum. All structural funds of 2020 (60 billion) were channelled to fighting the virus. So-called green corridors necessary for the passage of goods were created on internal borders. Beside that, a 750 billion asset purchase programme was launched by the European Central Bank to support the economies of Member States. The EU institutions are working at full swing.
The current crisis, where scientists, doctors and experts have a key role and impact, will hopefully bring also the Estonian political elite and especially the government parties to face some facts. If we are fighting the greatest challenge in the history of the EU, we have to give up ideological taboos and restrictions we have rhetorically set for ourselves. Herman Van Rompuy, who as the President of the European Council led the efforts to resolve the eurozone crisis, has said that when a storm has grown very strong, a good compass is more important than a strong anchor. In other words: knowing your direction, your destination is more important than existing rules and restrictions.
* The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author.