Let’s empower the European way

Elina Lepomäki,
Member of Parliament, National Coalition Party,

We are in the midst of a global crisis. The decisions people and governments take in the next few weeks will shape the future of our societies for years to come. Within only a short period of time we make choices that affect people’s lives over the next decade. The nature of emergencies is that all of a sudden processes that used to be stuck in bureaucracy start running in leaps.

In the past years, it had become so common to refer to the European Union as a project which evolves through crises. Well, every project is shaped by the obstacles it faces. But it is not as obvious that the choices made will always be for the better.

Hungary has effectively turned into a dictatorship. The evolution of the political system under Fidesz was not healthy in the first place. Under his ten year premiership Viktor Orban has centralised power to his party at every possible junction. In the end of March he passed a law which suspends elections and effectively ends the freedom of press. There is no sunset clause on his new supremacy. It is an anathema to anything the EU stands for.

This is the situation where the EU can claim back its power, being the lighthouse of individual freedom. Instead of turning its back against the Hungarian people, the EU should ban the government from joint decision making and close access to all EU funds. Indeed, the EU should even consider sanctions against Orban. At the same time, it should use all its power possible to grant Hungarian people the same human rights available to EU citizens. Also in protesting against its own government.

Many countries have claimed the European response to the coronavirus crisis being too weak or lacking solidarity. Instead of insisting on Eurobonds, these people should take a look at the Luftwaffe flying patients cross-border to Germany for care. This is what the EU should be about. Reaching out to people, more than and even rather to their governments. At the same time, the European Central bank has stepped in with a massive programme to help sovereigns in their growing funding needs. Thus far there have been no restrictions to market access to any crisis-struck countries. Even Italy has been able to access funds with an affordable yield. We are in this together.

We are in the driving seat now in forming the EU’s future. This should be the time of empowering citizens. Knowledge is power, it has always been. These days even dictatorships fail to contain the vast amount of information available to its citizens over the world wide web. For some reason, in the case of an emergency, many are trying to do the same. Even if Western countries are luckily not going the censorship way, many governments still have failed to inform the public accurately, openly and timely of the measures taken and especially of the knowledge base behind those measures. It should be very much the opposite.

The severity of the corona crisis took most of our governments by surprise. It should not be a point of shame but rather an impetus to learning. Instead of embarking onto a process of pepping up preparedness for next time, we should be reshaping the process as we move along in the current crisis.

There is no choice between appeasing public opinion or providing (too much) information. There is almost no such thing as too much information. If it’s not the officials disclosing their strategies, people and media will speculate and find out. That lies within the nature of an open society.

In my home country Finland, before more drastic measures were taken to contain the virus, there was a wide-spread discontent with the information handed out by the Institute for health and welfare, whose strategy the government was basing its response on. The research published by Imperial College London before and at the outbreak of the coronavirus in most of Europe had a remarkable impact on the opinion of the informed what comes to the government response to containing the virus. In many countries the government strategy changed, not least due to public pressure.

We should not turn nationalistic in a situation which easily could be mistaken for a natural response to “too much globalisation”. Yes, too many companies had placed too much of their production not just overseas but into one location: China. When those value chains broke down, those companies at the other end of the world had to tell their clients they couldn’t deliver. That’s not a failure of globalisation, though. That is a lack of diversification.

As we speak, China and most of Asia is recovering from their coronavirus epidemics and showing, just like Trump had demanded from his economy, that they are open for business. The beauty of globalisation is just that when European countries are closing their doors, we can still buy supplies from the rest of Europe and the world. Imagine we were bound to only domestic produce and our own economy would shut down for three months. For this purpose alone, cross-border trade is ever so important. For the exact same reason we should be very focused on the economic recovery during and after the crisis. It has never been as obvious: Europe needs structural reform to be able to cope in the future economic scenery.

When we emerge from the crisis, the world will look very different from just a meager few weeks ago. There is a significant power shift going on. If we in Europe fail to deliver, we will – by a giant leap – be more exposed to the decisions and more importantly, values chosen elsewhere. Instead, we should grasp this unfortunate crisis as an opportunity to envision and enhance the European way. Individual liberties, privacy, freedom of trade and expression, justice and the European welfare state. Let’s make it a winning recipe.

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