Sunday, October 1, 2023

European cooperation in between War and Pandemic Restrictions

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By Audrey Beaulieu.

The last few months have roughly hit the world and especially the European continent. As countries are encouraged to close their borders in order to control the spread of the coronavirus, this decision might endanger cooperation’s efficiency. However, a quick glance at the answers that have been given to the biggest obstacles through history shows us that cooperation and multilateral decisions are essential when it comes to global problems, such as a pandemic. 

April 1944. In Vienna, the battle was unavoidable. More than tens of thousands of people were killed. The destruction was incredible. The end of the war has been a long-awaited moment. People knew that this moment would only come once the German army would forfeit. It was on April 27th, before the end of the war, that a new government was built, and that the declaration of independence was published. This new chapter carried hope for the Austrian nation and especially for the ones who had suffered from the war. 

This new chapter also brought, a few months later, in June 1945, the creation of the United Nations (UN) which demonstrated the will of the international community to move toward relations based on cooperation and was also the beginning of what is today the most important institution of international cooperation. A few years later, in November 1948, was published the well-known Human Rights Declaration which focused mainly on human dignity. Still there, the idea of having a common legal basis as an answer to World War II (WW2) reconfirmed the idea of cooperation as a solution to global problems. Even if, still nowadays, there is still work to do in terms of putting those words efficiently into practice, we can say that the 75 years since WW2 showed a promising evolution in terms of international cooperation. 

In Europe, the idea of cooperation, more specifically economic cooperation, was omnipresent and strongly supported by great European figures. Yet, it was hard to imagine such a thing in a context where tensions between East and West were still very present, so present that they led to a war; the famous Cold War. Nonetheless, I don’t think that war has been an obstacle for cooperation’s growth on the Western side since the Treaty of Rome has been accepted between six European countries during that period. Conversely, I believe that events such as the Cold War tend to be incentives to partnerships and stronger cooperation. That said, this agreement marked the beginning of European cooperation.  

The death of Stalin, in March 1953, allowed a wind of change on the Russian side. When Khrushchev took power, some reforms were made and Western countries realized that it was now possible to easily negotiate with Russia. Indeed, Khrushchev was more flexible than Stalin. In October 1955, the Russian soldiers and all other occupation soldiers left Austria. In other words, Austria was finally a free and independent country. However, this wasn’t exactly the case yet in Germany where the situation was more complicated and where antagonism was growing. 

Built in 1965, The Berlin Wall became the symbol of the division of East and West. On the one side, NATO was founded as a military alliance and on the other side, the Warsaw Treaty. But the arms race was dangerous and expensive for both sides. So, in the 1970s the idea of peaceful coexistence was growing and it was a success from the 1975 Helsinki Declaration. It was a step in the direction of reducing the political tensions.

On the other hand, after the death of Mao in 1976, China obtained a leading position in the global economy and global power. A little more than a decade later, the world assisted to the collapsing of several communist regimes in Eastern Europe starting by the fall of the Berlin Wall. Then came the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Through all those changes, the economic cooperation in Europe started to enlarge. Nevertheless, the expansion of NATO to the borders of Russia was considered, for some, not so-clever as political tensions started to grow again. 

What we notice from this quick historic summary is that we tend to give a bigger role to cooperation when we are undergoing a hard phase. That said, the coronavirus crisis is, without a doubt, something that could become a game changer in terms of cooperation, and above all, in terms of cooperation in Europe. Within the last few years, the European Union (EU), which is, by excellence, the institution of cooperation in Europe, have been widely criticized especially for its management of the migrants’ crisis, its uneven application of the rule of law and now for its management of the coronavirus crisis.

It seems that the EU is getting more fragile, notably with Brexit and the empowerment of non-European initiatives. Indeed, many unanswered questions are still pending and could contribute to the weakening of the EU. For example, the fact that Balkan countries (Serbia and Montenegro might join the EU by 2025) might not be accepted in the EU leaves, for those countries, an open door to reconciliation with other poles of power, such as Russia. Moreover, we observe that cooperation has taken a step back in the European priorities’ agenda. About that, Lamberto Zannier, OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities, underlined the “lack of interest of countries to invest in the frameworks like [the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe]” translated by the continually “shrinking budget” of the organisation.

During the pandemic, we detected, among members of the EU, a lack of coordination in the management of the crisis although coordination is crucial in an environment where members are dependent on each other’s effectiveness. Countries seem to have managed the crisis mostly on their own, following their own interests, and sometimes even without considering agreements made prior to the crisis. For example, Czech Republic banned Italian travelers despite the well-known principle of free travel. 

That said, with President Trump, Xi Jinping, the Brexit and coronavirus, the year 2020 brings whole new perspectives and questions. The world needs to keep being successful on the fields of cooperation, disarmament, actions against the damage of our climate and democracy and democratization but, most importantly, we need to take a step back and look at the answer we gave to previous crisis.  

The main point that stands out is that cooperation has always been a part of our answer. Therefore, as coronavirus is a major event, I think we should expect a reinforcement of cooperation in Europe. We can already feel that cooperation has been strengthen in some regions, such as the south of Europe, which have been particularly affected by the crisis. France could be an interesting avenue in terms of European cohesion since they have been working with countries from the south and also have a good relation with Germany. I believe that coronavirus crisis will (or, at least, should) be an incentive to move forward with the creation of coalitions, the reinforcement of the rule of law where it’s needed, the development of a coherent legal framework and the reinvestment in proactive multilateralism initiatives. 

In a more global view, the sustainable development goals of the UN, supported by all of its members, are really promising in terms of positive changes for cooperation. The seventeenth goal foreshadows the increase of more-balanced partnerships between the North and the South. These partnerships are going to be crucial in order to heal from the wounds of the pandemic. Cooperation seems to have always been the key to the difficult periods of history. Consequently, if we truly have learned from wars and history, we should expect an important increase of cooperation initiatives in the near future. 

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