The COVID-19 pandemic raging throughout Europe has challenged European integration and its ability to coordinate during times of crisis, analysts say.
They say another major test is how Europe will stimulate the economy with insufficient resources, as the virus has brought a lot of small and medium-sized enterprises to the brink of bankruptcy as well as a sharp increase in the jobless number.
The experts believe the initial European picture of each fighting its own fight against the COVID-19 pandemic has revived concern over European integration.
Notably, the far right and nationalist forces in many countries have not hesitated to exploit the pandemic for their own gain.
“European integration would be more difficult as new uncertainties add to its transformation,” said Ding Yifan, a researcher with the Development Research Center of China’s State Council.
A rise of nationalism alongside the populist trend in Europe would trigger “a re-mapping of politics with worsened polarization and social split,” Ding noted.
Cui Hongjian, head of the Europe department of the China Institute of International Studies, said, “The European Union’s early performance in responding to the virus has produced a negative impact on the integration process.”
In addition, economic stimulus for the euro zone is still on the way, with the EU facing the trouble of insufficient resources as well as differences among members, for example, with a joint eurobond supported by France, Spain and Italy but rejected by Germany, the Netherlands and Austria.
Post-pandemic economic recovery and financial stability are at risk in the aftermath of a stalled business agenda and massive input in fighting the virus, Cui noted.
In particular, “It calls for close attention that whether countries with a heavy debt burden like Italy and Spain would achieve financial stability and thus not trigger a new debt crisis,” he said.
Ding Chun, a professor with Shanghai-based Fudan University, said Europe’s major economic challenges would include helping businesses survive to avoid massive bankruptcies and unemployment, overcoming differences to pool resources and enhance collaboration, and tackling virus-heightened debt burden pressure.
The COVID-19 crisis presents both challenges and opportunities for European integration, Ding said.
It remains to be seen how EU members, following the pandemic, would choose between strengthening the EU’s leadership and coordination capacity, and letting its authority and role for European unity recede, Ding added.