The corona crisis means dramatic losses for Europe: we lose thousands of lives from an ever-deadly viral disease, we lose prosperity and jobs as a result.
Who should still believe in the much-cited “Union of Values” of Europe, if this Europe in the greatest crisis since its existence literally turns out to be worthless? How hollow the Sunday speeches about “European solidarity” may sound in the ears of the affected regions of Europe, if at the beginning of the infection crisis, when the first signs of mass death were already evident in Italy, European member states – including Germany – first banned the export of medical products Impose aid in Italy instead of providing emergency aid?
And what is left of the European idea if, in the everyday life of the crisis, only the individual nation states seem to be able to act through closed borders and national aid programs – or are left helpless when they are defeated by national means alone in the fight against the pandemic?
The European Union threatens to fail dramatically in this greatest test since its inception. Instead, we see that powers like Russia and China are providing effective public aid to emphasize precisely this deficit in Europe. It is obvious that humanitarian and political goals are being pursued at least at the same time.
The author was environment, economy and foreign minister and vice chancellor.
From 1998 to 2005 the author was German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor.
(Photo: dpa [M])
It is true: the export ban for aids has now been lifted again. Germany is one of the countries that offer seriously ill patients from Italy, France and Spain, for example, hospital beds and intensive care because our capacities are still sufficient. But this aid, which is as important as it is good, is little more than the famous “drop in the bucket” given the impact of the crisis, the thousands of deaths, mass unemployment and severe social upheaval.
Countries like Italy and Spain will not forget Europe and especially we Germans for 100 years if we let them down in the face of this threatening and already beginning development in their countries. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Europe threatens to become a zero-sum game in which nation states believe that if someone gets something, someone always has to lose. Donald Trump has made this the credo of his international politics. Now this “my-nation-first virus” has apparently also infected Europe.
The assertion that has repeatedly been made in Germany for decades that Germany is a “net contributor” has repeatedly proven this anti-European resentment anew. Of course, Germany pays more taxpayers’ money to Brussels than it receives back from subsidies – only that’s not even half of the bill.
One really only has to know the basic arithmetic to know that a country like Germany that exports (or: exports) far more goods and services to Europe than it imports (or: imports) from there obviously also has more money in the country gets than it spends in other countries. There is no other way to become an export European and world champion.
Germany is the biggest winner in Europe
The truth is: our country is the biggest economic and financial winner in Europe. We even made money from the financial crisis in Greece. Our neighboring and member states in the European Union know all of this. That is why you are now rightly looking at what Germany is doing to use part of the wealth it has acquired through Europe for this Europe.
Europe is not just a peace project, but also an economic, social and ecological project, not a “zero-sum game”, but the opposite: it literally creates “added value” for everyone. Especially for Germany and definitely also in the financial and economic sense. The founders of the European Union knew that and what Europe needs now is the courage of this generation of founders.
Because, of course, it is not popular everywhere to share the hard-earned economic performance in your own country with others. Especially not when you are in the middle of a crisis, the outcome of which neither politicians nor the population can safely judge today. The fearful question, “Don’t we need our medical and economic resources for ourselves?” Is not immoral or reprehensible.
The answer to this, however, is that no country – not even Germany – will come out of this crisis alone and on its own. Because our economic and social collapse of our neighbors will also reach apparently safe Germany. In Europe there is prosperity and security only for everyone or for nobody. That was the reason why the founding generation dared to take on this daring project of European unification, although it was certainly not popular to ask us Germans at the table of a united Europe shortly after the devastation of the Second World War.
No country has benefited from this solidarity as much as Germany – because with the establishment of European integration, the countries reached out to us as friends and partners, the streets of which the boots of the German occupiers had marched a few years earlier. The success story of the Federal Republic could not be told without Europe’s solidarity.
Nobody therefore has as much Europe within them and nobody has as much responsibility for Europe as our country. That is why it must now show willingness to lead in Europe – preferably together with France. Europe now needs two things: joint aid in the crisis and a joint reconstruction program after the crisis.
Just as there were two projects in 1948 that, due to their historical size, have remained in our country’s collective memory to this day: the Berlin Airlift to supply the needy citizens of West Berlin and the Marshall Plan for the Reconstruction of Europe, which is today after all, it would have a value of just under 150 billion euros and from which the German state bank KfW (formerly: Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau) comes. KfW still manages twelve billion euros as a special fund from what was then the “Marshall Plan”. Even today – 70 years later – KfW is financing the aid measures that have just been decided for German companies in the corona crisis from these assets.
Three-step program for Italy and Spain
The hardest hit by the corona pandemic, such as Italy and Spain, need an overlapping three-tier program: emergency medical and humanitarian aid; medium-term, long-term European loan support, which is not counted towards the Maastricht criteria, to stabilize the domestic real economy; long-term innovation promotion program to secure economic and social future.
Germany would be well advised to take part in such an aid program at European level instead of continuing the ideological dispute between Northern and Southern Europe over euro bonds or corona bonds. Because one thing is clear: Neither Italy nor Spain are able to raise the necessary funds to rebuild their countries as new government debt alone. Europe has to relieve them of the burden of interest and presumably also repayment.
The signal that all European member states are ready to do so must come quickly. Otherwise right-wing extremists in both countries will try again to warm up their nationalist soup against the EU. It is in both European and German interests that these governments in Italy and Spain, which are undoubtedly democratic, are economically, socially and thus politically stable and stay European-minded!
Of course, in the medium term and regardless of the current crisis, Europe will also have to jointly guarantee the single currency. Only then will the euro become a real international reserve currency and an alternative to the dollar. If we do not do this, Europe will not achieve its economic sovereignty, but in doubt will always depend on the policies of the dollar area, as we have had to experience bitterly in the dispute over the nuclear deal with Iran.
However, since this further development will not take place today and probably not tomorrow, there should be no debilitating principle conflict in the middle of the crisis. The clearest and clearest way would be to add an emergency aid fund to the budget of the European Union, which is fed by all member states and must have sufficient financial means to deal with major crises in Europe.
Incidentally, this also includes urgently finding answers to what Europe wants to do if the corona infection spreads in large numbers in the refugee camps in Greece or in Turkey or Syria. All international aid organizations warn of the human tragedy that will arise there and for which we are responsible, whether we like it or not.
The corona crisis needs a strong European response
Wherever the whole of Europe is threatened, the entire European Union must respond and must not delegate this response to sub-groups such as the Eurogroup. Or as George Marshall said in his famous Boston speech to justify the Marshall Plan: “(…) Europe’s economic realignment is a matter for the Europeans themselves. I think the initiative must come from Europe. The program should be a collaborative one, agreed by some if not all European nations. ”
The dispute in any case, whether the European Union should do this within the common currency group of the euro with common bonds (bonds), whether existing financing options such as the 410 billion euros of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) can be used for this or a new instrument has to be created because the ESM was created for completely different goals and is therefore unsuitable for today’s situation, should be ended and decided quickly.
The corona crisis needs a strong and audibly European response of cross-border and practical solidarity: It means a challenge that ignores national borders and in some cases drastically overwhelms the ability of individual states to act. If we want to survive the major strategic challenges of the new decade – from digitization to migration and security policy – we Europeans can only do it together.
Crises can be opportunities for Europe – like the Balkan wars of the 1990s that led to the start of a European foreign policy. The corona virus has the potential to accelerate two opposite processes: Either it deepens the cracks already existing in Europe so that the Union could break apart. Or the European Union and its member states succeed in agreeing its consequences in the fight against the virus. It is very important to us Germans which way Europe will take. We don’t have much time left for that!
More: The pandemic is a stress test: can Corona destroy the EU?