Where is (and where was) Europe?

Milena Di Nenno

By Milena Di Nenno

Credits: POLITICO Europe

Clicca qui per leggere la versione in Italiano.

On February 21, 2020 the first local Covid-19 cases were identified in the North of Italy. Since then, the number of positive cases has grown exponentially, spreading throughout the peninsula. And, Italian citizens’ sentiment of unity has developed in the same exponential way. All united against an invisible ‘enemy.’ All united, because the others do not show enough interest. Who are the others?


The recurring issue was related to the reason why Italy was becoming the second country in the world with the highest number of Covid-19 positive cases. The answer was that the number of tests carried out in Italy was notably higher than in other states, both European and non-European.

Clearly, this gap highlighted that European states’ approach to the matter was not unitary, but rather depended on the different governments. After 200 positive cases and 5 deaths in Italy, there were the first signs of European states’ closure towards Italy: Austria stopped rail traffic for 4 hours, France suggested to close its Southern borders, Romania established 14-day isolation for those coming from the hit Italian regions.

That is how Italians started to feel that Europe was increasingly detached. In this scenario, the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, delivered his watchwords:

“We are therefore expecting, quite rightly, or at least for the common interest, solidarity initiatives rather than actions that might hinder [Italy’s ones].”

Obviously, the words ‘common interest’ and ‘solidarity’ sounded pretentious, when a growth of Covid-19 positive cases was being experienced also in the other European states. The result was, indeed, the opposite: not only the movement of people, but also trade, like the export of personal protection equipment, was restricted by the single states.

Today, all European states have followed the ‘Italian Pattern’ for measures to counter the virus. This seems to have awakened Italian people’s feeling not to need Europe, because, after all, Europe adopted measures that Italy developed without almost any help. Does Italy really not need Europe?

It is necessary to distinguish between Europe understood as all the states of the continent, and the European Union, an international organization.

In the first instance, to the questions “where is and where was Europe?”, the answer might be: “busy managing the health emergency at national level.”

When, instead, we talk about the European Union, the situation changes. Since the beginning of March, the EU is facilitating the intergovernmental dialogue between member states, through the total activation of the Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR) Mechanism, that guarantees information-sharing and close cooperation among the states involved and European Institutions. The EU also resorted to its supranational powers, by establishing a plan of action common to all member states in the fields of medical aspects, economy and mobility. For this reason, it allocated funds to help the healthcare systems and the small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as funds to finance scientific research on the virus. Moreover, it announced large flexibility on public spending decisions and on State aid and ordered a lifting of restrictions on the exports of personal protection equipment within the Union.

EU decisions are directed to counter a health emergency that poses important challenges not only to single European member states, but also to the EU as an institution. In fact, the EU will have to demonstrate, especially to European citizens, that the best response to global crisis is a supranational decision-making process. It will be necessary to avoid the question “where is Europe?” and to substitute state and citizens’ current belief of being able to act individually, with the statement “Europe is here and I can see it.”

  • Could a positive management of the current health emergency by the EU have effects on EU democratic deficit?
  • Is managing the emergency at a supranational level important to the future of the EU? If so, how important is it?

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Where is (and where was) …

by Milena Di Nenno time to read: 3 min