C: Christian Lue via Unsplash

Russians latest to aid Italy as EU demonstrates its uselessness

There’s a sense in the country, and in the wider world, at the moment, that this is the time for everyone to pull together, and that old divisions don’t really matter in the face of a genuinely existential threat to human life. In so far as possible, therefore, we’ve tried not to dole out any fire and brimstone criticisms of Irish politicians and Government, who, whatever you might think about their record in other areas, are genuinely doing their best to stay on top of this crisis.

The same, however, cannot be said for the European Union, which has been worse than useless. And it’s not just those of us who were sceptical to begin with who are saying it. Here’s a report from the Irish Times, whose coverage usually is so pro-EU that it might as well carry the flag on its masthead:

“These are the specialised medical staff who faced the coronavirus emergency in China, and in this moment have arrived in Rome,” Di Maio said. “This is the aid. There are the first 40 ventilators, there are masks,” he said as the screen showed blue crates being unloaded. “This is what we call solidarity.”

Di Maio was also pointing out the aid that hadn’t come.

Rome formally asked EU states to urgently send facemasks in February. “Not a single EU country responded,” Italy’s ambassador to the EU wrote last week.

From the beginning of the crisis, the European Union’s response has been an abomination. In the face of the evidence of a mounting outbreak of the virus in Northern Italy, and calls across the continent for travel from the area to be suspended, the EU stuck to its ideologically driven commitment to freedom of movement, refusing to countenance anything that might restrict the right of people with symptoms to flutter across the continent, spreading pestilence to all and sundry.

And in terms of aid to countries that need it? The Irish Times story above covers that – a request for aid went out from the third largest country in the EU, and the response was diddly squat.

Meanwhile, not only has the Chinese Communist Party filled the gap, sending boatloads of aid in what is, essentially, an enormous Chinese PR exercise to cover their own role in the catastrophe, but now the Russians, as well, according to Bloomberg News, are stepping up:

As soon as Vladimir Putin got off the phone with the desperate Italian prime minister, Russian aid was being loaded onto military planes, headed for the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

The consignment was given a high-profile reception by Giuseppe Conte’s government, with Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio there to see the reinforcements land at a military airport south of Rome on Sunday night. As well as protective masks and coats, ventilators, swabs and testing equipment, there were doctors and disinfection teams on board, according to the Italian Foreign Ministry….

…. EU leaders have stirred up resentment in Italy by restricting exports of critical medical supplies as they prepare their own health-care systems for an onslaught of infections.

That opened the door for Putin and China’s Xi Jinping. The Russian supplies were dispatched bearing a sticker with a heart and the words “From Russia with Love,” news wire Ansa reported.”

When the rainy day came to Italy, it will be remembered that it wasn’t the EU who were there to help – it was the Russians, and the Chinese. For all the talk of EU “solidarity” and the idea of the EU being a “family of nations”, this crisis has exposed what an utterly useless organisation it is when you need to rely on it.

Lest we be accused – as we surely will be – of being propagandists for the Russians and the Chinese, let’s be clear about one thing: This is bad. Neither the Chinese Communists or Mr. Putin are despatching reams of aid to Italy out of the goodness of their hearts. All of this has a long term political purpose, which is to undermine European unity and expand their own spheres of influence. In China’s case, to buy goodwill for Chinese companies undercutting their western competitors, and in Russia’s case for that country’s geopolitical interests in the Middle East and places like Ukraine.

Now, for the sake of accuracy, it’s not true to say that the EU has done absolutely nothing, but what it has done almost reinforces the problem. Take this grandiose announcement:

“The European Commission has approved a €50 million Italian aid scheme to support the production and supply of medical devices, such as ventilators, and personal protection equipment, such as masks, goggles, gowns, and safety suits. The scheme will help Italy provide the necessary medical treatment to those infected, while protecting healthcare operators and citizens. The scheme was approved under the State aid Temporary Framework to support the economy in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak adopted by the Commission on 19 March 2020. The Commission approved the scheme within 48 hours from receiving the notification from Italy.”

To the untrained eye, that might read to someone like “oh, the EU gave €50m to Italy”. Wrong.

What the EU did there was to permit the Italian Government to spend €50m of its own money to increase the production of ventilators. That’s what “state aid” is – it’s permission to spend your own money backing your own industries. And they took two full days to consider the matter, in the middle of a crisis. They didn’t spend a penny to help – they just delayed Italy’s own spending by two days and nights.

In this country, by and large, criticism of the EU is verboten. The press is full of stories, real and imagined, about the uselessness of Prime Minister Johnson and President Trump, but universally silent – with the rare exception of that one Irish Times piece – on the utter catastrophe that has been the response of the European Union.

Here’s the response of one Italian Mayor. That country won’t forget the pointlessness of the EU during all of this very quickly. Ireland will, of course. You can be sure when this is over, our politicians will thank the EU for it’s “solidarity” – even though no such solidarity exists, or has ever existed, where Coronavirus is concerned.


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