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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.

 

After a bumpy start, the EU has drawn up a comprehensive response to the global Covid-19 pandemic by activating multilateral forums and providing assistance to third countries in need. If EU decision-makers can avoid the instinct of withdrawal that occurred during the sovereign debt crisis a decade ago, the coronavirus crisis also offers an opportunity for the Union to enhance its support for its neighbourhood and the Global South and, in so doing, to increase its global standing in a new geopolitical environment.

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The foreseeable economic recession calls for a collective European response in a spirit of solidarity into which France and Germany have injected fresh impetus. However, beyond financial commitments and corresponding mechanisms, European solidarity must be backed by a strong and tangible political commitment in order to shape public opinion as well as a geopolitical strategy.

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The notion of national sovereignty has regained importance in recent years, both on the international stage and within the EU. The current coronavirus crisis appears, at least at first sight, to be another example of the comeback of strong nation states. However, on closer inspection, a more nuanced picture emerges: as nation-state action is becoming increasingly ineffective in the medium and long term, the need for European (shared) sovereignty is being reinforced.

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The coronavirus crisis is accelerating a paradigm shift in European integration. Freedom as the organising principle of the EU was in retreat even before the pandemic when liberalisation, openness and liberal democracy came under strain in many countries. Restrictions imposed to tackle Covid-19 are reinforcing this trend. Concerns that some of these restrictions may remain in place beyond the pandemic are legitimate, particularly in the case of countries that are abusing the crisis to achieve autocratic overreach. The EU will need to find new ways to defend its legal order based on freedom.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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