Former Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said that some European Union member states are failing the solidarity test with Italy by abandoning the country right at the moment coronavirus is killing thousands of its citizens.
Some countries, such as Germany, have even made it difficult for Italy to get the filter masks it needs while others, such as Sweden, have argued that the pandemic is not great enough to justify completely closing its borders and will still permit asylum seekers enter its territory.
“In the case of aid for Italy, solidarity has been missing. Some disturbing information has been reaching us such as that aid that was to be delivered by member states has been stopped. There was information about masks and virus tests being confiscated in Germany that were supposed to go to Italy,” said Waszczykowski.
Germany, along with France, put in place medical gear lockdowns that resulted in the countries restricting the export of vital medical equipment to countries like Italy.
The former Polish foreign minister acknowledges that the EU would need to change its treaties in order to intervene directly in public health matters and force member states to export medical equipment.
The EU also lacks authority in other key areas, such as the rule of law, security, education, and other key issues.
Despite the EU’s lack of authority in health matters, that does not mean it is powerless. There are EU agencies such as Frontex, Europe’s border and cost guard agency, which could theoretically deploy to Italy. The EU also has diplomatic muscle, and it can take decisions on economic aid.
The EU has already allowed existing resources to be directed towards alleviating the spread of the coronavirus, but no new money has been found for this cause, according to Waszczykowski.
Waszczykowski says that in the past, the EU has often exceeded its authority and competencies, especially when it seeks to attack its political foes. This has happened in areas such as the rule of law issues, where Brussels is locked in an ongoing battle with Poland over judicial reform despite European treaties making it clear that court systems fall under the purview of member states.
Yet, in a time of true crisis, the EU is demonstrating it is reluctant to overstep its “boundaries” and aid Italy.
The foreign Polish minister suggests that the EU could learn from the pandemic crisis to develop new standards for combating epidemics and pandemics. At the same time, he does not necessarily want the EU to claim new prerogatives in the area of health.
Waszczykowski regards the area of health as a security matter which should remain in the control of member states.