Coronavirus: Europe will emerge stronger than ever

Facing its greatest ever challenge, the EU is proving a powerful force in the fight against the pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is unlike any other challenge our world has faced. No one was ready for it, and many were caught off guard. As Ambassador of the European Union to the UAE, it pains me to see how normally bustling cities like Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Brussels and Milan have been brought to at a standstill.

Being Milanese myself, I saw first-hand the terrible toll this pandemic has inflicted on vulnerable people. However, to confront this pandemic, and to survive it together, we need a global response. The pandemic has painfully shown us that, more than ever before, global challenges can only be confronted by global cooperation and strong multilateral institutions.

Critics have said, including in the opinion pages of The National, that the pandemic has left the EU in disarray, spelling doom for its unity. I strongly beg to differ.

Yes, it has been challenging – even confusing – to deal with this public threat.

Yes, we could have reacted more swiftly.

And yes, our continent has been severely affected.

But critics miss a crucial point: after an initial phase in which national reactions prevailed (because public health is a national competency), the EU has been quick to generate European responses in a spirit of solidarity.

Doctors and nurses were sent across border to provide help. Millions of masks and protective equipment were provided to resolve shortages abroad. Some patients were even hosted by hospitals outside of their home countries in order to alleviate pressure on the hardest hit areas.

Therefore, based on our past, I would venture a prediction. Throughout European history, what has not killed the EU has made it stronger.  It is in crises that the EU rises to the challenge. With a greater sense of the common good that binds us together, I am confident that the coronavirus will leave us stronger than ever.

Critics have said the pandemic has left the EU in disarray; I strongly beg to differ

We are now putting everything we have into doing everything we can to prevent further spread of the virus. We are protecting citizens in Europe and around the world, supporting those in need. We have worked on ensuring smooth border management and the flow of goods. We have adopted strong measures to protect our economies and support vulnerable workers, families and businesses.

The EU and the European Central Bank have injected record amounts into the economy, paving the way for its recovery. Beyond the borders of our continent, we are working with our international partners, including the UAE, to repatriate thousands of EU citizens stranded abroad. So far, this has allowed some 500,000 Europeans to go home.

We are also devoting huge resources towards the development of a vaccine. The EU has mobilised €140 million to fund vaccine research, as well as the diagnosis and treatment of Covid-19. Some of our companies are at the forefront of the race to find a safe vaccine. This will not only benefit Europeans, but all of humanity.

The EU is taking the lead in developing a truly global agenda for enhanced pandemic preparedness. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has called for a global online pledging conference to be hosted on May 4. This will further accelerate work towards the development of possible treatments against the virus and bring an effective vaccine further within our reach. “This is our collective best shot at beating the virus,” Mrs von der Leyen said.

To promote international solidarity, the EU and its Member States are also contributing to the UN's worldwide humanitarian call to help countries with the most fragile health systems. So far, the EU has mobilised more than €400 million to boost global preparedness, prevention and containment of the virus. This shows a Europe that has not only the interest of its own people at heart, but also those of the rest of the world.

And, thankfully, we are not alone in this. The UAE has also shown its leadership and generosity at this critical time. Its massive testing programme and the quality of its healthcare system are remarkable. The dedication of frontline employees in this country are commendable: doctors, nurses, teachers, supermarket staff, community police, delivery workers and all those who perform critical functions for our wellbeing are our heroes. And we are proud that many of these jobs are being carried out by Europeans living in the UAE.

I also commend the Emirati leadership in taking a leading role in international solidarity – from deliveries of medical supplies to countries in need to helping reunite a seven-year old European girl with her family in Abu Dhabi. Emirati flights delivering critical medical equipment to European countries such as Italy, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Croatia have not gone unnoticed. These and other Emirati solidarity gestures to vulnerable countries in this region and beyond have weakened the impact of the pandemic worldwide.

This is what mankind needs right now. Only united we can deal a death blow to this virus. We will then find ourselves in a changed world. Hopefully, it will be a world characterised by mutual care, compassion, comprehension and solidarity.

Andrea Matteo Fontana is the European Union Ambassador to the UAE