By European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas
“I am not an Athenian, nor a Greek, but a citizen of the world” said Socrates. With reflection time now available to me in a greater abundance than I am accustomed to, never has this struck me as more true. The global health crisis we are all grappling with has, for me, exposed two essential facts. The first is that we are all equal. The virus that plagues us is indiscriminate. It knows no borders, social class, income bracket, religion or culture.
The second is that none of us are alone. This may feel paradoxical as we all sit isolated in our homes. But what this crisis has shown is that our every action has implications for others. And, quite simply, we need each other.
These humbling facts have rung true in our response, here in Europe, to the crisis. In the first days, there were predictably divergent national reactions, understandable given the scale and nature of the crisis. But it took no time at all for our Member States to realise coordinated lines of action are the only course forward. Because we are not alone, we are all equally affected and we can only succeed in successfully combatting this crisis if we work together, individually and collectively, to protect our citizens. This starts by strengthening and supporting our public health systems, our security systems and our food and medical supply chains. All of our Member States have put in place strong measures to prevent the spread of the virus and the European Commission is mobilising all means at its disposal to support them. From coordinating border measures, supporting repatriations, launching joint procurement procedures for medical equipment, securing free passage for essential goods across the internal market to mobilising unprecedented financial support and relaxing budgetary and state aid rules we are leaving no stone unturned.
Citizens were faster to the punchline still. As people in the Bavarian town of Bamberg stand on their rooftops and open their windows to sing Bella Ciao in solidarity with Italy. As the Spanish police serenade isolated residents of Mallorca. As Belgian police sirens pay a bellowing nightly salute to healthcare workers. And as villagers in Evros call out to welcome Frontex officers who left their homes in the midst of the pandemic to help protect our common external border. All ring clear with the sound of solidarity amongst Europeans. Our way of life may have been affected, but the values that underpin it have not.
We have all learnt anew what the luxury of the mundane allowed us to neglect: individual responses do not work, sticking together optimises all our chances of beating this thing.
Others will seek to draw different conclusions. They will spread fake news and conspiracy theories and seek to unstitch the seams that hold us together. It is not the first time. Many were those who said European solidarity could not survive the financial and economic crisis. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.
The world after Coronavirus will be a different one. It will amplify several existing economic, technological, and security trends already underway. We have an awfully long way to go to overcome the multitude of challenges facing us. We are at the beginning of this crisis and the Commission stands ready to do more as the situation evolves. But my humble hope is that in the end this crisis will serve to bring EU Member States closer together in the realisation that our fates remain very much intertwined. That we may all heed Socrates’ warning and recognise that “we cannot live better than in seeking to become better.” And that Europe may be seen not as the epicentre of a problem but as an epicentre of solidarity.