By Mohammad Mazhari

EU failed to address COVID crisis: Canadian historian

April 5, 2021 - 16:52

Pointing to populism as a key problem threatening the future of the European Union, a Canadian historian says that the EU has failed to address the COVID crisis.

“In Italy and Spain, the numbers were alarming,” David R. Marples tells the Tehran Times.

While the majority of countries in Europe are falling short on tracking coronavirus variants, such as those first detected in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil, meaning more contagious strains are spreading undetected, Europe now remains the epicenter of the coronavirus.
The COVID crisis revealed Europe’s weaknesses when it comes to health and social equality.

Marples says the EU suffers threats like populism and internal struggles as well.

“I think the key problems are populism and reaching a consensus on issues like the Nord Stream pipeline, which has divided Germany and some of the others,” Marples notes.
Following is the text of the interview: 

Q: Do you think that the U.S. and Europe have been successful in containing the Coronavirus? What are the COVID-19 implications for America and the EU?

A: In general, no. COVID-19 has had very adverse effects in the United States, which was in denial in the early part of the Trump presidency and belatedly addressed it. The EU is too large to cover in a single statement but in Italy and Spain, the numbers were alarming. COVID-19 has caused short-term economic dilemmas and demonstrated the need for international cooperation when dealing with a pandemic. 

Q: What are the main challenges that threaten the EU's future?

“I do think the EU makes sense economically. In terms of democracy promotion, which it advocates, especially for potential new members, its record is mixed.”

A: I think the key problems are populism and reaching a consensus on issues like the Nord Stream pipeline, which has divided Germany and some of the others. Hungary is embracing a policy of open illiberalism. In Poland, the Law and Justice Party have reached an impasse over the question of abortion. There is also the question of new members and the limits of European expansion. Should the EU stop where it is? Should Turkey finally be accepted? Should Ukraine, Belarus, and other neighboring countries be considered long-term members? And, if so, what about Russia? Is the EU a rival of Russia or could the two work together? I would say that in 2021 this outcome seems unlikely, but it is not inconceivable given that geographically, the industrialized part of Russia lies in Europe. 

Q: Do you predict a serious confrontation between Russia and Western powers during Biden's presidency?

A: They are off to a bad start. Perhaps Biden wanted to make it clear that he did not share Trump's complacency and indifference to some Russian actions, such as pulling troops out of Syria and ignoring issues in Ukraine. Biden has also agreed to stronger sanctions against Belarus, an important Russian ally. I think Biden is a more orthodox type of leader, direct, and committed to restoring ties with traditional allies in NATO and the EU. I don't see this as heralding a serious confrontation, but it could lead to some tension with Russia. 

Q: Do you think that Russia may turn into an alternative hegemon to challenge the U.S. in the near future?

A: Well the only alternative hegemon militarily is China, and there are some disadvantages to heavy reliance on China under Xi Jinping, who has become the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao. The leaders of the world's largest countries, India and China, have also taken some disturbing steps against their Muslim populations in recent years. Russia may move closer to China but I don't think it will be a long-term strategy.

Q: How do you assess the EU's performance when it comes to independence in terms of setting policies?

Take the example of the Iran nuclear deal as the EU failed to confront the Trump administration's unilateral sanctions on Tehran.

A: Strictly speaking, the agreement on the Iran nuclear deal came through the UN Security Council with the addition of Germany, the so-called 5+1. Thus, the questions should have come from the UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany. And they should have come. The Security Council, on the other hand, is rarely in full agreement. The EU countries are very different. The closest to the U.S. during the Trump presidency were Poland and the Baltic States (it would have been the UK before Brexit). Germany and Italy are both open to close relations with Russia, and others, such as Slovakia, are also more open. France seems to be moving in that direction. I felt that the Trump era only strengthened these non-EU ties. I do think the EU makes sense economically. In terms of democracy promotion, which it advocates, especially for potential new members, its record is mixed. And in terms of addressing U.S. hegemony, it has followed an independent path in many aspects, but in foreign policy, the U.S. is the main player. This is a legacy of the Cold War and post-war Europe in general. On the ending of the Iran nuclear deal, Trump never consulted with his traditional allies and in general, he preferred to meet on a bilateral basis with leaders like Putin and Kim Jong-un.



 

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