In an interview with the website of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, Abbas Sarvestani said the coronavirus pandemic in the world could be the fifth turning point in the international system after the World War II, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the September 9/11 attacks and the 2008 economic crisis. Although talking about the consequences of this pandemic virus for the international system may be a little early, it has so far brought about fundamental and controversial changes in the international system.
Referring to the escalation of US-China conflict and distrust between these two powers, as well as China’s success in controlling the virus and providing assistance piecemeal to capitalist countries, he said: China has been able to partially rebuild its international image, beef up its soft power, and in practice prove the superiority of its political system in dealing with the crisis. In contrast, the US response to the corona crisis has been more nationalistic, and Trump has shown that he remains committed to his strategy of “America First,” and that where US national interests are at stake, he becomes alienated from even his closest allies and through taking some measures more than ever he has tarnished his international image as a superpower.
The European affairs analyst said these fundamental and contradictory changes in the Green Continent have been greater than in other parts of the world and have challenged one of the EU’s fundamental principles i.e. the free movement of people, goods and services between member states.
At the onset of the crisis in the southern European Union, such as Italy and Spain, and the EU’s delayed response to help these countries increase scepticism about the EU and even led to the burning of the unified European flag and currency in Italy and Spain. Gradually, however, with the entry into the scene of European Union to fight against the borderless virus, its reputation among member states was somewhat restored.
Coronavirus Crisis Threatens Europe as a Supranational Society
“The current situation and the coronavirus crisis are far more dangerous than any previous crisis for the European Union, and it threatens it as a supranational society,” said Sarvestani adding, “Especially that many people and politicians in the southern countries see the catastrophic impacts in Spain and Italy of coronavirus as a result of the imposed policies of EU’s austerity economy, which have severely affected health care systems in these countries.
Asked if the EU’s inefficiency in dealing with the coronavirus would deal a blow to the EU’s sluggish body and that we will see a recurrence of the Brexit scenario with respect to the southern countries of the European Union, the analyst said: “The right-wing and populist parties will take advantage of this pandemic disease as an opportunity to weaken the pro-Europeanism governments, and we are witnessing a decline in the EU’s role and delegation of its authority in this crisis. The longer the crisis lasts, the greater the trend of nationalist policies will be.
The idea of EU Collapse Simplistic
“At the same time,” he stressed: “Despite all these, the European Union has shown it is a union weathering crisis and has always emerged stronger from crises. We must think of the European Union as a living entity that seeks treatment if it becomes ill. It is simplistic or fanatical to think that EU is collapsing, and it seems that those holding this viewpoint do not have any knowledge about the Union’s mechanisms to deal with crises. In the short term, populists may gain power, but all of this is temporary.”
Explaining the EU’s late but ponderable efforts to resolve the crisis on the continent, Sarvestani said: “What we need to consider about the European Union is the element of dynamism in it and that it has faced such crises often.” As the 9/11 attacks showed how decentralized and ineffective the anti-terrorism policies of European countries are, and led the European Union to adopt common and effective counter-terrorism policies so that at present it has one of the most coherent anti-terrorism policies in the world. The Coronavirus will play the same role with respect to EU health care policies, and we will witness the development and effectiveness of the EU’s common health policies against pandemics and biological warfare in the next decade.
Regarding some analyzes on the possible departure from the European Union of Italy and Spain, he noted the history of the rift between the rich European countries and the southern countries of the continent and their criticisms of each other, saying, “This gap has always existed, but what is important is that the benefits of being in the union far outweigh those of not being there. In this situation, if these countries are alone, their economy will definitely collapse.
Coronavirus Made EU More Cohesive, Efficient
Stressing that the Coronavirus is predicted to make the European Union more cohesive and efficient, and its position superior to that of its competitors, he said, “The underlying differences between the United States, China and Russia have so far prevented showing a common reaction and finding a common way to deal with global crises, and this lack of cooperation has provided a historic opportunity for the European Union as a permanent supporter of multilateralism to take the initiative to work together with other countries such as Canada, South Korea, Mexico and emerging powers such as India and Brazil to combat global crises.
He said the European Union enjoys potential opportunities and challenges to take advantage of this historic opportunity and play the role of an international leader in multilateralism, adding, “The Coronavirus crisis is an environmental issue and it has benefited the environment. Trump doesn’t believe in environmental issues at all, and China hasn’t paid any attention to them. The European Union has claimed leadership in global environmental governance since 1980, but there are many limitations whether Europe would be able to take advantage of the situation for itself. Among other things, it does not have the economic power of the United States. It has normative power, but it cannot impose sanctions or use military force against countries that violate the law.
Referring to the stance of EU leaders on the necessity of considering the crisis as global and efforts to secure financial support to partner countries amounting to more than 15.6 billion Euros, Sarvestani said the pandemic of coronavirus disease showed the international system is faced with megatrends and various complicated environmental issues as well as climate and ecological changes. Environmental issues can be considered the most global issues in the international system, the solution of which requires the formation of an extensive network of multilateral policies and multilevel governance.
This emerging process of supra nationalization of environmental issues provided a wide range of opportunities and potentials for supranational and subnational actors, including the European Union, to play an effective and leading role in global environmental governance.