A few weeks after the groundbreaking budget agreement adopted by the European Council on July 21, 2020, it would be tempting to say that COVID-19 changed everything in the European Union (EU), in line with the oft-repeated principle: “It takes a crisis for Europe to act.” Like all clichés, there is some truth in this statement. The EU’s shared debt plan is the most important boost to European integration since the euro, and a step that would have been impossible without this crisis. This major progress owes, in large part, to a less obvious dynamic—the return of a golden triangle, which had not made such an impact since the early 1990s—the French-German partnership and an ambitious European Commission.
The EU must also address that citizens’ expectations regarding Europe have increased, which has long been underestimated. They criticize it less for interfering with national competences than for its failure to act on shared challenges. In the past, it was migration; now it is health, from the lack of harmonized quarantine measures to shared research on a vaccine. Nowadays, citizens expect Europe to take action, and criticize it when it does not act sufficiently, acts too late, or fails to act.
The COVID-19 crisis has also shown that the EU’s effectiveness seems linked to its competences: it is responsive in the economic sphere (suspension of budgetary rules or state aid, large-scale monetary support), largely powerless in coordinating border restrictions, and practically nonexistent in terms of the core health aspect of the crisis…
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