The Nightmare of Covid-19 on European Liberalism

There is no doubt that the political setbacks of this crisis will not stop at the borders of a Member State, which means that we are heading towards major transformations on the European continent that may threaten the disintegration of the Union.


Written by: Hassan Mahareeq-Board Member at REFORM

The emerging Coronavirus cast all its weight on Europe, causing a massive shock that led to a state of political confusion, mainly on the decision-making level, in European countries. As a result of the enormous pressure on health facilities, which remain crowded with large numbers of infected individuals, medical and biological information is inconsistent. As a precautionary measure, European countries have taken different directions in imposing measures to limit the spread of Covid-19, and some have even taken advantage of this crisis to reinforce their political power and control. For example, the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, directly legislated a number of decisions that impose restrictions on judges, academics, and civil society institutions. The Parliament has approved a bill that authorizes him to take necessary measures, and rule by decree to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. The European Union considered this as a flagrant violation of the values on which the European Union was established.

It is expected that other European governments will follow the same approach taken by the Hungarian government, as a result of the inability of the European Union’s institutions to promote the value of solidarity, in a practical way, amongst the Member States to confront this pandemic. Italy, a founding member of the EU, as well as Spain, were left alone to combat the Covid-19 outbreak, despite the calls of the governments of these countries to urgently intervene. The Union failed to coordinate the efforts of its Member States to confront this crisis, which created the impression amongst European citizens that the values on which the Union were based are mere slogans and illusions sold by European elites to their peoples for more than half a century.

The Covid-19 outbreak complements the financial crisis that the Union was exposed to in 2008, the migrant crisis in 2015, and the most recent, of which was the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union. These crises were accompanied by a number of transformations that resulted in the rise of the conservative right and populist parties in a large number of Member States of the European Union. As a result of the shock caused by the spread of the Coronavirus, the consequences of the political, economic and social transformations will be more profound, putting liberal values at stake. Based on the assumption that politics cannot tolerate emptiness, it is likely that the coming transformations will be in favor of the values of totalitarianism, which are often rooted in periods of economic shock and crisis.

Many of the preventive measures that countries have taken to counter the spread of Covid-19 led to the restriction of freedoms and the violation of rights stipulated in national constitutions, which will be difficult to undo when the declaration of the state of emergency ends and subsequently be viewed as political gains, thus, entailing more deviation towards adopting the values of totalitarianism. Sociology literature assumes that there is a clear correlation between the trauma resulting from the pandemic and the increasing tendencies of individuals to adopt and support totalitarian and nationalist visions, which explains why citizens demand their governments to implement stricter procedures and regulations on violators. These transformations pose further challenges for those in favor of promoting the European Union as a common market for Member States with a value system that defends freedoms, solidarity and democratic values, in light of the current economic depression and the increase in unemployment and poverty. Therefore, the burden becomes greater than the capabilities of the rich countries of the Union, such as Germany and France, to maintain the institutions of the European Union.

However, European history has experience in this regard, such as in 1919, when the Spanish flu pandemic, according to estimates of historical sources, spread to about 500,000 people. Among its consequences were a great deterioration of the economic situation of European countries and the spread of poverty and instability across the continent, which made European countries look for a way out of this crisis. European countries transformed into nationalist and totalitarian regimes such as, the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany, fascism in Italy, and the Communist Revolution in Russian Tsar, as well as the conservatives taking the lead in UK policy and the isolation of the United States, which then imposed high tariffs on goods entering its territory.

There is no doubt that the political setbacks of this crisis will not stop at the borders of a Member State, which means that we are heading towards major transformations on the European continent that may threaten the disintegration of the Union. Therefore, the Union cannot continue in light of the heterogeneity of the member states’ systems, as a new map of alliances for international powers will appear, further empowerment of totalitarian regimes will prevail, and shifts towards narrow nationalism. This will be followed with the growing impression that totalitarian regimes were the most efficient in stopping the spread of the Coronavirus, which is illustrated by the success of the Chinese system in combating the pandemic. The decline of the values of pluralism, freedom and openness, as human values that were brought up in the environment of western Europe, will have the greatest impact in accelerating historical transformations that may put us before wars and conflicts within new international alliances. At a minimum, we will witness the nineties period when the Soviet Union collapsed and was followed by the fall of the regimes that were based on communist values at that time.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or the donor.




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