Saturday is Europe Day. It is especially sombre this year, 75 years since the defeat of Hitler’s barbarism and 150 years since the birth of Lenin which led to the communist totalitarianism engulfing half of Europe for more than four decades after VE Day in May 1945.
Europe’s challenges today are in many ways as great as 1945 and 1989. The European Union remains indispensable and Boris Johnson’s intention to crash out looks worse with each passing week.
For more than anything, the coronavirus pandemic exposes the existential threat to our whole way of life of Xi’s China, Putin’s Russia and Trump’s America.
Europe’s health, trade, democracy and security are all at stake. The EU will be central to Europe’s recovery and international clout once the lockdown is lifted, country by country.
Today’s pandemic is nowhere near as bad as the evils inflicted on our parents and grandparents by fascism and communism. But it has been made far worse, and may even have been caused as a global phenomenon, by the lack of democracy and human rights in China, fanned by other authoritarian regimes, including Iran, which failed to act openly or transparently.
The Xi regime’s litany of dissembling, victimisation of whistle-blowers and suppression of evidence about the origin and spread of Covid-19 mirrors the regime’s handling of the SARS outbreak 20 years ago.
To counter this new and dangerous Chinese superpower we need a stronger, more united Europe, not a descent into weak, uncoordinated nation states with no collective capacity to act. It is not just pandemics. Europe is not safe if Xi, Putin or Trump are the arbiters of the globe. We could see this soon again in the international action needed to tackle climate change, making even Covid-19 pale into the shadows.
Those who criticise the EU for not having done more in this crisis miss the point entirely. With our societies reduced to bare essentials by the lockdown, and travel and trade largely eliminated in the quest for sheer survival, EU and virtually all international collaboration have been eclipsed. But we are going through this pain in order to get back to travel, prosperity and a full democratic civilisation, not in order to enter a new dark age of autarky, austerity and authoritarianism.
Maybe even Nigel Farage has seen the light. He is protesting that the men in blue reminded him of the emergency law on ‘necessary travel only’ after his trip to Dover to protest at illegal immigration. Freedom of movement suddenly matters to the King of Brexit.
Peering into a world without international trade, travel and exchange, we should be lauding the European Union and its principles of democracy and broadly-based prosperity, advanced by competent democratic governments promoting freedom of trade and freedom of movement.
European solidarity and dynamism will be critical to getting out of the economic slump now certain to follow the lockdown. The Eurozone has taken vital first steps towards a European Marshall Plan in the European Central Bank’s decision to buy unlimited amounts of the debt of beleaguered member states, including Italy.
European solidarity and dynamism will be critical to getting out of the economic slump
In due course this will oblige a Eurozone arrangement on debt repayment and write-off, possibly including a larger European budget to make loans and grants to underpin recovery.
Equally vital will be EU action to revive European and international travel and trade, and to negotiate a health and safety regime with China, the US and the World Health Organisation. Britain will need to be part of this for our own prosperity and security. The only question is whether Johnson engages alongside the EU or ends up following what is already decided or negotiated by the EU while claiming to be Robinson Crusoe.
It is striking that almost every other European state appears to have handled the Covid-19 crisis better than Britain. We were behind France and Germany in the lockdown and look set to be so too in the opening up. Our fatalities have also been greater. Brexit hubris is rapidly turning to nemesis.
Edmund Burke, the greatest of Tory thinkers, described government as “a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants”. More Europe, not less, is the wisdom of the future.