April 25, 2020, Marica.bg
How will the COVID-19 pandemic that changed us change Europe?
“She’s already changing it.” The pandemic is a fundamental test of the fundamental values on which the EU, a united Europe and NATO are built. Unity and solidarity come first. It is precisely these two basic properties that are subjected to a very severe, perhaps the most severe test. It was touching to tears when I saw this mutual help, spontaneous readiness to help sick people, medics. This is wonderful.
The same thing happened within the EU and NATO. The exchange of shipments between countries, the help of those most affected by the pandemic Italy, Spain. And we received such a shipment of medical supplies on NATO planes. This suddenly brought the continent together, brought Europe together.
Let’s look at the Western Balkans and appreciate what joining the European Union has brought us
There will be no serious talks on the new Marshall Plan before July 1, when the German presidency begins
- Is Bulgaria a better place to live 15 years after the historic date of April 25, 2005, when Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha signed the Treaty of Accession to the EU?
- In any case, today Bulgaria is a better place to live. We must have reasons for daily dissatisfaction, we want to be much ahead in critical sectors. But let’s look at what we’ve gained from our starting point. It is enough to look around and see the situation of our neighbors in the Western Balkans, who are still struggling to start real membership negotiations. This comparison alone is enough to assess what we have today, 15 years from now.
Yes, we certainly could have done more, but there is no going back
- This is the most important finding and is a huge achievement for us, the Bulgarians.
Exactly on April 25, 2020, the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty will be marked with an international virtual scientific conference on “European solidarity during the corona crisis”, organized by PanEuropa Bulgaria, the Atlantic Club and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Bulgaria.
- What is the most important thing we managed to achieve in this period?
- The most obvious is the free movement of people, capital, goods. What was divided by deep lines until 1990, and we now perceive as a natural state. We don’t even think about the meaning of free travel. The idea is to have accounts inside and outside Bulgaria, to be able to trade goods in all directions of the world, with ever-decreasing trade tariffs and barriers, especially within the EU. These are tangible, visible benefits.
We are lagging behind and it is most difficult for us to live in a European manner and pattern
The crown, the halo of Bulgaria as a European country will occur when we feel like “we are Europe”. The majority of Bulgarians still think in the “they are Europe” dimension.
- Maybe we are hurt by the feeling that we are the poorest in the EU?
- It is not only a question of poverty as a statistical dimension, but also how we keep our environment clean, tidy, respectful of the other. These are all cultural dimensions of membership that are the most difficult to change. And I deeply believe that these more tangible parameters will inevitably bring the other most important change for me.
- Where should we focus our efforts from now on?
- We need to develop more openness, that’s why education is so important. It is very necessary for children to take an open view of the world from an early age. They need to understand that, regardless of any political interpretation, they live in an open world.
The Internet reality is already flooding us, and against the background of the pandemic, the world is becoming much more virtual. The world opens up, whether we accept it or like it. We must not sacrifice our new generations by imposing a closed worldview. That is why education acquires even more critical dimensions.
- Will the famous Marshall Plan, a double of the first one that resurrected Europe from the ruins after the Second World War, also work for the coronavirus pandemic?
- This is a very interesting moment in the development of Europe, because the original “Marshall Plan” came to Europe from the United States, from an external friendly force. Now, however, the new Marshall Plan will include internal measures for which countries agree to provide funds. According to Internal Market and Services Commissioner Thierry Breton, the EU will need 1.6 trillion euros to recover from the pandemic, which is about 10 percent of EU GDP. But that 10 percent must come from all of us. The big question is how the states will agree on this. There are countries that are more skeptical about grants.
However, I do not think that a serious conversation about the new Marshall Plan will begin before July 1, when the German EU presidency begins.
It is a good sign that things will happen during Germany’s EU presidency – the locomotive of Europe. In all the badness of the situation, this is a good coincidence.
A compromise will finally have to be found between North and South Europe. This tension has been smoldering beneath the surface for a long time, but now a solution must be sought. The North will have to accept compromises to help the weaker economies of the South in the face of Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece. Probably we should include ourselves here. Although so far we have missed the severe consequences.
- The pandemic raises another important question for Europe – how will relations with China develop from now on?
- Relations with China are a serious problem. President Trump was usually unceremonious, but he was essentially right. The enthusiasm for quick and easy profits led to the fact that key productions – both for Europe and the United States – were exported to China. And now the moment of truth came again – they began to return.
It is very indicative whether the EU will find an internal consensus on China, which will again go through purely economic and financial accounts.
It should already be assessed very carefully who from outside wants to buy European companies, who will invest in the EU from outside.
- The Atlantic Club launched an international initiative in response to a request from EC President Ursula von der Leyen for ideas on how to develop Europe after the coronavirus. What are the main highlights of the initiative?
- The initiative, called Health Shield for Europe, is supported by the signatures of authoritative European leaders, Bulgarian scientists, non-governmental organizations. In addition to health measures, including risks in food trade, the initiative includes longer-term measures to strengthen EU trade regulations, ensuring the security of the European economy and development.
- There are no longer any illusions that recovery from the pandemic will be a long process
“Even Microsoft founder and renowned philanthropist Bill Gates warned that it would be at least 18 months before a vaccine or drug could be developed to tackle the epidemic.”
- Will we cope with the challenge?
- Yes of course! So much knowledge has been accumulated around the world that there is no way the Covid-19 obstacle cannot be overcome like so many others before. However, they must be sober realists – this will have a very high price!
- How will the coronavirus crisis affect overseas policy? Will Trump win a second term?
- He is no longer guaranteed a second term. It will all depend on the pace of recovery in the US economy. Another disadvantage for Trump is the severe health effect of the epidemic. In this situation, Democratic candidate for the White House Joe Biden suddenly got a better chance than a month ago, and is now becoming an equal rival of Trump for the White House.
I know Joe Biden, I had the opportunity to work with him – he is an experienced politician and a warm person who knows how to communicate with people. Trump would be useful in rebuilding the economy, and Biden would be better suited to heal the nation’s social wounds after the epidemic. One thing is certain – the US election has become extremely interesting.
Elena Poptodorova is an international diplomat and analyst. She graduated in English and Italian philology at Sofia University, diplomacy at the University of National and World Economy. He specializes in Great Britain and Italy. Long-term ambassador of Bulgaria to the United States. Member of Parliament with 4 seats in parliament. Vice President of the Atlantic Treaty Association, Director of Euro-Atlantic Activities at the Bulgarian Atlantic Club. He speaks English, Italian, Russian, French.
The interview was taken by: Henrieta Kostova