COVID has brought to light institutional weaknesses already present in the EU

Professor Nicolas Levrat was the keynote speaker at the 3rd MDAE seminar looking at COVID-19's impact on European integration dynamics

Diplocat has today hosted the third seminar in the series on COVID-19 and its global and European impact. The event was organised in conjunction with the Barcelona Institute of International Studies (IBEI) under the auspices of the MDAE alumni network and entitled "Does COVID-19 strengthen or weaken European integration dynamics?"

The seminar was kicked off by Jacint Jordana, Director of the IBEI, and Laura Foraster, Secretary General of Diplocat, who underlined the significance of the seminar's theme in the current situation and the calibre of the speaker: Professor Nicolas Levrat, Director of the Global Studies Institute at the University of Geneva.

Professor Levrat began his talk by announcing that he would not be making any predictions about the future impact of the crisis but rather would simply look at its current effects. Here he stressed first of all that the COVID-19 crisis has not brought about any changes in the European Union's institutional structure. He pointed out two relevant issues in this respect: does the EU need to gear up to be a crisis resolution body, and how has COVID-19 shaped the European integration process?

Levrat argued that COVID-19 has not led to any deep-seated changes for the various players as it has simply brought to light the problems and weaknesses countries and institutions already had. He suggested that one of the main ideas to be explored when answering the question posed for discussion is to find out what is considered to be the European Union, whether only its institutions or also its member states.

One of the things most talked about by academics is the restoration of sovereignty to states, yet here Levrat begs to differ. He feels that although it is true that states have recovered sovereignty in border control, other economic and health decisions have had to keep in mind the international economic and stock position, especially pharmaceuticals. Hence he contended that industry is now stronger and no longer subordinated to the authority of states. As for the economy, there have been no changes in sovereignty. Even though governments have put the effects on GDP on the back burner, the financial markets have not ground to a halt.

This propensity to draw attention to deficits has additionally been experienced by international institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation and the World Health Organisation. They have also seen how current weaknesses have not emerged due to the crisis but instead were already there, albeit not so obviously.

As for the impact on European integration, Levrat believes that a backwards step has been taken in some areas, for instance the sealing of internal borders. Another problem identified is that policies are moving at different speeds as evidenced by the European Recovery Plan. It has already been signed off yet remains tied to the European budget, which first needs to be passed by the European Parliament and national parliaments before it can be implemented.

Finally, Levrat spoke about the opportunities for integration which the most optimistic believe are being given a helping hand by the crisis. He suggested that there is a divide between member states and that national politics is becoming increasingly crucial when tackling issues at the European level. He cited as an example the resignation of Commissioner Hogan from Ireland who stepped down due to domestic pressure, something which had never happened before since Europe was seen as a separate issue.

Levrat concluded by arguing that European integration needs to be rethought as a larger Union is not sustainable. In his view, more federalism is needed in the EU, a more political federation in which more power is not relinquished to the centre but instead where the various tiers continue to share levels of sovereignty.

Aleix Cuberes i Diaz, a graduate from the fifth MDAE programme and at present in the Cabinet and Communication Department of the 1st Vice-Presidency of Lleida Provincial Council, moderated the session and opened the floor to questions. In replying to them, Levrat said that he firmly believes in the EU's resilience in overcoming crises. He expanded on his theory of European federalism, noting that not all federalisms are the same and that European federalism works under its own rules and balances. He stressed the current weakness of the single European voice and the need to revive the debate on a genuine European government. He also pointed out that solidarity and cooperation in sharing vaccines will depend on the health situation in countries. Levrat said he has confidence in the EU, in its workings and in the future, and stressed that for the moment it is the best project in the world.

Laura Foraster wound up the session by thanking Levrat for his talk and reminded the audience that the next seminar in the MDAE series is to be held on 19 October and will be about the US elections.

Organized together with: