Acting European? The European Union and the Weimar Triangle in the Coronavirus Crisis
The series “Acting European? The European Union and the Weimar Triangle in the Coronavirus Crisis” sheds light on current responses and new policy approaches in tackling the long-term consequences of the pandemic both within the countries of the Weimar Triangle and at the EU level. The first part of the series looks at the national policies pursued by France, Poland and Germany, cooperation among them, and their visions of what a European response to the crisis should look like. The second part focuses on the EU level and examines how the present crisis is likely to impact key dimensions of cooperation within the Union and beyond its borders.
The coronavirus crisis has affected the countries of the Weimar Triangle to varying degrees. Bilateral relations between Germany and Poland as well as Germany and France have been strongly influenced by border closures, which have led to tensions between the countries. Although Franco-German relations seem to be gaining momentum after years of relative gridlock, the lack of Franco-Polish cooperation as well as common initiatives led to the complete invisibility of the Weimar Triangle. At this point, new ways of thinking are urgently needed if the Triangle is to fulfil its raison d’être.
Germany is emerging from the first phase of the pandemic with some scars, but broadly in good shape. Like most European countries, it was late in addressing the threat posed by the virus and in “thinking European” in its response. Its six-month EU presidency starting in July is bound up with unique challenges as re-opening internal borders and restarting the European economy may well determine whether the Union can hold together. In order to drive the EU’s economic and social recovery forwards, Berlin needs to present a compelling vision for a green and digital post-pandemic Europe worth striving for.
France is one of the countries that has been worst affected by Covid-19 in the European Union, pushing its healthcare system and its economic resilience to the brink. The current crisis rapidly put the government under severe pressure and once again tested French citizens' confidence in the executive. The French approach to this multidimensional crisis, which has had a strong European focus so far, could also be an opportunity for the government to inject fresh impetus into the country's European policy and to help strengthen the European Union as an actor in the current crisis.
The Covid-19 pandemic has hit Poland in a difficult period. The issue of postponing the presidential election, originally scheduled for 10 May, has led to significant tensions in an already deeply polarised political scene. While decision-makers were quick to introduce restrictive measures, they have questioned the efficacy of the solutions to the Covid-19 crisis proposed by the EU. However, in spite of the political rhetoric of self-sufficiency, Poland needs greater EU solidarity, especially when it comes to economic challenges.
Beyond its immediate effects as a global health crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic poses manifold political and economic challenges for the EU and its member states. Previous crises have shown that the EU's crisis management is dominated by intergovernmentalism and often limited to damage control. Nevertheless, common institutions and procedures such as those of the eurozone offer clear added value for the limited capacities of each member state and will make a difference in the long run.