In the last few days, we have witnessed a serious campaign, on behalf of China and other global players, to portray a distorted image of the responsibility for the outbreak. At the same time the European Commission has done a great amount of work, which has somehow gone under the radar of most EU citizens.
Perhaps in the past two weeks, some of you have come across the images of the Russian airplanes loaded with aid landing in Italy; or, we’ve read about the assistance that China is giving to doctors and the million masks that they have donated. At the same time, in TV studios across Europe, we often hear that Europe is not united, that Europe did not react, or that Europe was simply not there in this extraordinary situation.
To be fair, in times of crisis, what is also in great deficit is trustworthy information. We see some false-prophets, fake news and twisted interpretations of facts. I am not trying to victimise Europe. What I am saying is that the true victims are we, the citizens. In the last few days, we have witnessed a serious campaign, on behalf of China and other global players, to portray a distorted image of the responsibility for the outbreak. The narrative has changed from one in which China was suspected of hiding crucial information about the virus – and continuing to do so now – to one in which China is there to lend a helping hand in the most affected European regions at a time where Europe is not present there.
The truth of the matter is that while those few images of the Chinese doctors are making their rounds on the Internet, the European Commission has done a great amount of work. The Commission is trying to gather masks and medical equipment, as well as the indispensable ventilators, which are of paramount importance, for all Member States. There is an ongoing procedure for an EU-wide delivery of testing kits.
While looking into the petrifying statistics of new cases and deaths, we simply omit that not all helping hands are honest and without ulterior motives. We have already seen the first signals of the attempts of Chinese investors to buy out Italian companies. This is the reason why the Commission removed the fiscal and state aid restrictions. This way, in practice, Member States have the possibility to save their economies and to offer support to the most affected companies, as well as to stop the attempts of abusing the crisis with buy outs by Chinese or other investors with questionable interests and aspirations.
We cannot ignore the fake news about medicine and vaccines that have supposedly already been created. Given the initial lack of acknowledgment by the U.S., Russia and the U.K. about how serious the situation is, it is logically difficult to deduce that the first vaccine or medicine would have been invented there. In fact, what we saw was that the U.S. administration tried to attract a European company with advanced studies on the Covid-19 vaccine. In response, the EU and Germany reacted with no delay and made available additional financial help to the project. Furthermore, as early as late January, the Commission gave 47,5 billion euros to projects, which look into treatment or prevention from the virus. This was followed by many more initiatives with financial help to companies or researchers working on medicine or new methods for Covid-19 diagnostics.
Week after week, we hear that Europe has lost its solidarity, which inevitably will lead to the break-up of the European project. Strangely, this same solidarity-lacking Europe, permitted my country, Bulgaria, to spend 546 million euros from the EU funds to support our health system and our businesses. It is about advance payment of money, which if not spent, must be returned back to the EU budget, but in this case they will stay for the Member States to operate with.
This same Europe, extended the scope of The Solidarity Fund to the most affected Member States; a Fund that has up until now only been used to address natural disaster damages. The extended scope, confirmed by the vote of the European Parliament, adds 800 million more euros to the fund which is at the disposal of Member States. Furthermore, 1 billion euros of EU money have been redirected as guarantee of the European Investment Fund, to stimulate banks to offer low-interest loans to businesses. We must take into account that all this money is out of the pockets of the so-called non-solidary European citizens who at this very moment also tackle crisis in their own countries.
I cannot help but wonder when seeing all sorts of experts and politicians talk in TV studios questioning where Europe has been during this crisis – the same experts and politicians who just weeks ago stood by the opinion that the EU is unnecessary and Member States must be left to their own resources to deal with whatever comes. It is true, however, that most of the reactions in times of crisis are in the hands of the national governments, and that the EU’s competence is limited precisely by those same national competences.
Hence, next time when someone tries to explain why Europe cannot do anything, it must be mentioned that EU integration in some areas is very limited and often labelled as unnecessary or even counterproductive.
We all hope that with common efforts, we will win the fight against Covid-19, but as with every challenge in human history, we must know who was there for us in the time of crisis.