Early 2020, the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19 quickly spread around the globe. The pandemic changed the way we socialized, worked, and lived our lives. As it arrived in northern Italy, images of over-burdened hospitals quickly spread through Europe. The continent quickly realized that it must respond to the pandemic collectively if it wanted to stop the spread of the virus.
As member states were shutting their borders, halting almost all travel and trade, the EU set out on the seemingly impossible task to coordinate a response. The procurement and distribution of masks and other personal protection equipment was the first item on the agenda. Member states also helped one another by taking on patients from other countries or attempting to ease restrictions on cross-border workers.
The pandemic situation of lockdowns, remote work and social distancing measures went on, and the EU took the unprecedented step of collectively taking on debt to finance a recovery fund to cushion the blow to member states’ economies. EU member states also took the controversial decision to purchase vaccines as a collective, ensuring that all member states made equal progress in vaccinating their populations. Finally, the Green Certificates were introduced to prove vaccination, recovery, or negative test results for people across the EU, in an attempt to ease lockdown restrictions and reintroduce some form of normality into our daily lives.
While the EU undertook enormous efforts to respond to the pandemic, most actions, mainly restrictions of our daily professional and personal lives, were done on the national, or sometimes sub-national level. Sometimes, official recommendations or rules did not reflect the actions of politicians, as David from Hungary pointed out in our focus group “100 European Voices”:
The politicians didn’t set an example. Even members of the government and the prime minister, they were without the mask on the TV and on official pictures. People got confused.
Adam from Belgium felt that scientists were setting the rules:
It seems they [politicians] only listen to the biologists but they don’t take into account the human factor or the social part, the wellbeing part.
The debate around personal freedoms and the protection of our communities did not stop at vaccines, which for most of Europe’s population is still voluntary. The low acceptance rate of the Covid vaccine is prolonging lockdown measures across Europe. Kevin from Belgium has a clear opinion on the vaccine:
I wouldn’t even be opposed to making it [vaccine] mandatory for everyone, because we’re talking about human lives.
To get a policymaker perspective, we asked the same questions that led our focus groups to members of the European Parliament from all political groups. Expand the cards below to find out what politicians think of the EU’s response to the pandemic:
In the beginning, we did not have enough sanitation equipment. And we had to overcome a lot of nationalistic tendencies in all countries. Secondly, there were issues with the pharmaceutical industry. The vaccinations in the EU were clearly delayed when compared with the United States, the UK and Israel, for example.
The delivery of vaccines was clearly not a show of force for Europe. However, I think the economic recovery after the lockdowns and sanitation measures has been quite good so far.
Curious to know more about the EU’s pandemic response and what young Europeans think about it? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).
What do you think about the EU’s response to the pandemic? How has it compared to your own government’s response? What lessons do you hope politicians and governments learned for the next crisis? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!