No Path Between Harmony and Small State Mentality
Since the establishment of the ECSC, the Treaties of Rome, the Schengen Treaty, and the Treaties of Maastricht and Lisbon, the European Union (EU) has come a long way, from further opening its borders for people and goods, to establishing a common currency and economic representation. Despite all of this progress, core values of the EU are put under immense stress. Accompanied by many problems, such as financial- and migration crises, along with a right-wing uprising of unforeseen proportions, came what was feared by many as the final blow.
COVID-19 showed what solidarity means in the EU in times of crisis, and how much these states that worked together towards seemingly common goals, are really a group of individual national states with their own interests in mind. However, there is more behind the actions that these states took during this pandemic than first catches the eye. Their actions are rather symptomatic of a bigger missed opportunity of European integration. Spain and Italy have been hit the hardest by the coronavirus outbreaks. They have also suffered from an image problem inside the Union for quite some time.
The countries’ limited impact is visible in the European Commission and European Parliament, which are rather dominated by France and Germany. Additionally, many voices in Europe claim, that these states should work on their crumbling economies, or even leave the Union, so that they will not burden it with their financial troubles. Ironically it is Poland, and not the southern states like Italy, Spain, or Greece, that gains the most net financial support from the EU, when taking the balance between money received subtracted from contributions made into account. 
Other than that, there is a major impact in silencing of the justice system and press in Hungary and Poland, as well as Brexit, that has retreated into the background during this crisis. The European travel ban did not include England, despite its government’s stubborn denial to take preventive measures against the outbreak of the pandemic. This skewed view of reality has led to a problematic development in European relations. Solidarity for Italy was not shown by Germany, that stopped exporting medical equipment, but instead by China.
On the other side was the heavily debated economic stimulus package that Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark blocked for a long time to make sure that debts won’t be mutualized, so that the rich countries do not have to pay for the debts of the less wealthy countries. The discussion whether the stimulus bill should be implemented evolved around whether Spain, Italy, and Greece deserve the money. Even though Hungary is the main beneficiary of the bill, the decision whether Hungary should receive money was less controversial. Greece even managed to prevent a major outbreak of the virus, but that was not taken into consideration in the discussion whether it deserves stimulus money or not. Missed considerations like these show that the discourse evolving around the worth of the member states in the European Union does not seem to take human rights or democratic and liberal values into consideration. This is problematic in and of itself, since those are the principles the EU was founded on. Instead the discourse focusses on prejudices concerning the southern states.
Europe will never be fully unified and functioning if its members continue to look down on these states during every crisis, because the missing support will lead them down a road of a worse financial future and will, if it already hasn’t, sooner or later affect them politically. This might lead to an alienation of these countries from the EU or more generally from the international community and to an uprising of nationalist powers within these countries. These parties will receive support from societies that grow more and more hostile toward their European neighbors.
 Source: Buchholz, Katharina (2020): Infographic: Which Countries Are EU Contributors and Beneficiaries? Statista Infographics. Text available at: https://www.statista.com/chart/18794/net-contributors-to-eu-budget/ (last viewed 26.6.2020).
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of IFAIR e.V. or its members.
Lennart Hoschke is a bachelor’s student in the department of political science at the University of Lüneburg in Germany.