The coronavirus epidemic and the heavy economic consequences provoked by the financial turbulences of recent weeks and the measures adopted by many European countries to contain the contagion may be a blessing in disguise for the European Union.
In recent years the euro crisis of 2010, the long summer of refugees in 2015, Brexit in 2016, the Catalan independence referendum in 2017 and in general the reemergence of ugly nationalist and populist forces across many European countries have all been some sort of setback for the EU.

These were exploited by the enemies of the European project to undermine its credibility and the values of freedom, democracy and solidarity that form the core ideals of the European Union. Arguably Brexit would never have happened without the interference of Russian fake social media persona and Russian fake news.

The coronavirus epidemic provides a golden opportunity for the European Union to increase cooperation among European countries and show its true face and that it firmly stands for its values. Russia is again trying to undermine confidence in the European institutions, and the EU must strongly condemn these activities. The EU, however, can easily counter the damaging influence of Russian propaganda because it has truth on her side.

Individual European countries are now struggling to deal with the pandemic and the EU can initiate a collective effort to help those in need. This will require strong leadership and the willingness to put useless controversies, which can be used by the enemies of liberty and progress, aside. If more centralized decision making is required, so be it. This is not the time to squabble.

A comprehensive European Union plan must be devised for individual countries to navigate through this latest crisis. This must be done with the help of experts: the European Union has to make clearly the time of populism is over and national egoisms must be set aside. The likes of Salvini, Orban, and other far right politicians must be called out for what they are, nationalist demagogues that use fear and narrow interests exclusively for their personal political gain – and who play directly into the hands of Putin, whose objective is to sow discord.

In face of the failures of individual nations, the time for a political union may come, the chance to create a truly United Europe. If the European Union manages to show resolution and integrity, it may turn the coronavirus emergency into a temporary stall and reemerge from it, stronger and more united than ever before.

Jan Gutherz-Hof