An interesting little addendum to the story this morning about Ireland being the tenth worst country in the world for Coronavirus deaths per million people: All of the ten countries that head that list, Ireland, and the nine worse than us, are in the European Union.
You have to get to 11th on the list, the USA, before you arrive at a country with a high Coronavirus death rate that isn’t in the EU.
Why is that? You can’t answer that question without speculating, and there’s no way to be certain, but it’s very striking that countries that sealed their borders early in the crisis, like Israel and New Zealand and Australia, are doing vastly better. The EU, which refused to seal its borders, full stop? Dominating the wall of shame. It could be a coincidence, but the correlation is undeniable.
Anyway, having lots of cases hasn’t been the only EU problem. They still can’t agree on a mechanism to help those countries that are struggling, and countries that are struggling are, well, starting to notice:
New poll in Italy.
On EU membership
Remain 51% (-20)
Leave 49% (+20)
Changes on Nov 2018
Would Italy ever leave? I doubt it. But it's also hard to avoid the conclusion that the crisis is fanning the flames of Euroscepticism … https://t.co/ffI4gD7RI9
— Matthew Goodwin (@GoodwinMJ) April 11, 2020
Here’s the Irish Times, the other day:
The 19 finance ministers of the euro zone failed to reach agreement in marathon overnight talks on how to rescue the continent from a steep downturn expected as a result of the coronavirus.
A press conference to announce an agreement was delayed until Thursday, after already having been postponed to Wednesday morning from Tuesday, to give the ministers more time to agree.
There is deep division over how to respond. Italy is adamant that joint debt issuance in the form of so-called eurobonds or coronabonds is needed as a collective and resolute response to a crisis that has pummelled its already weak economy, a proposal backed by eight other states including Ireland, France and Spain.
But this is fiercely resisted by states including the Netherlands where there is deep public opposition to shared debt obligations, which are seen as handouts to spendthrift states, in a division that recalls the standoffs of the euro zone crisis of 2011.
Talks stretched into the early hours of Wednesday morning before being called off until Thursday. France and Germany issued joint appeals for compromise to break the deadlock.
In Ireland, of course, we’ve been treated to a four year, constant diet, since a little vote in the UK in 2016, of lectures about what a tremendously organised, efficient, responsive machine the European Union is, and what a good friend it is to have in a crisis. Go ask an Italian about that.
The problem, of course, is, as it has ever been, the Euro. Eurobonds means common debt, and common debt must mean common taxation, and common taxation must mean common governance. It’s the chicken and the egg: The EU has given itself all the status and signifiers of a super-state, a common currency, a common trade policy, no internal borders, and so on – but it lacks any kind of effective internal governance. That’s a recipe for disaster in a crisis, and we’re seeing that play out now.
The EU cannot aid Italy because there’s no central EU Government with the financial resources to aid Italy. The only way it can aid the Italians is by persuading the rest of us to take on Italian debt – and why would we do that? And so it was, and so it will be, for Ireland. The rest of the EU did not take on our debts in 2008. Instead, countries like Greece and Ireland were left to suffer for a decade in the name of EU stability.
At some stage, the system will break. If not now, then inevitably in some future crisis.
Ironically, the other big problem for the EU is that it no longer has Brexit as an example of deterrence. One of the whole points of the Brexit negotiations was to create an example pour encourager les autres – to show exit-minded Italians that Britain took a huge hit from leaving. But the Coronavirus has changed that. The whole world will be in global recession soon. If the British have it bad, so will the Italians and the Spanish and the French and the Irish. “It could be worse, we could be Britain” isn’t going to sound very convincing when we have 20% unemployment.
In fact, being outside the EU might end up giving the Britons a competitive advantage, allowing them to do things like devaluing their currency to alleviate their sovereign debt, a tool which will be unavailable to Dublin or Rome or Madrid.
Still, never underestimate the power of the EU to induce people to stick with it through thick and thin. The basic argument, as always, will not be that the EU is good – very few people can convincingly make that argument these days – but that leaving it would be catastrophic.
That won’t work forever though. The EU has two choices – go full superstate, or revert to what it was before Maastricht. At some point, the people will pick for it.