Chronology of a pandemic that put European solidarity at stake

“The new coronavirus outbreak is a public health emergency of international concern,” warned Didier Houssin of the World Health Organization at the beginning of 2020. At the beginning of the year, the European Union did not think that a problem that arose in China would affect so much terribly to our continent and the rest of the world. But he was wrong.

“All non-essential travel to China is suspended or postponed,” announced the European Commission.

In a matter of weeks, the disease was already wreaking havoc in northern Italy, where thousands of people were hospitalized every day, and the deaths showed the stark reality of an unprecedented pandemic. Italians then wondered where European solidarity had been. For which the President of the European Commission, Úrsula von der Leyen, apologized. “Many were not there when Italy needed a helping hand at the beginning. So for that, it is necessary that Europe as a whole offers a sincere apology.”

In spring, the virus spread throughout Europe. Therefore, one after another, all countries closed their borders and decreed an unprecedented confinement. “In times of crisis, the intuition of the member states was to return to their capitals, to reclaim their powers of decision and their sovereignty”, analyzes Matina Stevis-Gridneff, community correspondent for the New York Times.

July came the most significant moment of the year for the European Union. After days and days of talks, European leaders managed to close a historic agreement. The EU would make its way for the first time in the history of the Union by sharing debt. Thus was born the European recovery fund endowed with 750,000 million euros.

The leaders “did not want to make group decisions about how to spend or how to borrow. But the pandemic has forced them to agree and they have succeeded,” said Rebecca Christie of the Bruegel think tank.

The second wave hit central and eastern Europe even harder. According to the WHO, every 17 seconds a European dies. Hence, the Vice-President of the Commission, Margaritis Schinas, stated: “If there are still those who undermine or deny the threat, send them to me.”

With the creation of vaccines, citizens began to feel a little hope. The European Commission has bought hundreds of millions of doses to make sure everyone has access. “Days after our contract with BioNTech and Pfizer, I am pleased to announce a new agreement,” reported von der Leyen.

2020 has been like a nightmare. It has put European solidarity to the test like never before but it has also made us reflect on what matters most to us in a society that sometimes forgets what is essential.