Fifteen Minutes with Europe
European Union and the coronavirus pandemic


From March 2020 and in upcoming months In.Europa and its partners turn to online work, creating virtual conferences and more social media activities.

Polish version / Wersja polska

We would like to invite you to join the series of policy papers and interactive seminars, webinars helping to understand the world during the global coronavirus crisis.

Corona crisis. Hope in the EU budget?

The corona crisis pushed the European economy into partial “hibernation”, but the blow to the South member states has been far stronger due to the more severe sanitary hit and their economic structure. This “asymmetry” exacerbated the old resentment and distrust between the North and the South of the EU which is inherited from the harsh times of the debt crisis. Nevertheless, the EU has already managed to work out an ad hoc aid package. Moreover, it agreed more funds would soon be needed but the member states differ regarding the way and scale of intra-EU redistribution for economic recovery. Hence the current EU dilemma — what proportion of grants and loans to apply in the planned Recovery Fund.

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Poland – an epidemic democracy

Although Poland has been less tragically hit by the coronavirus than western Europe so far, the epidemic has already sped up the erosion of democracy. The plague arrived during preparations for the presidential election, which both the ruling camp led by Jarosław Kaczyński and the opposition were treating as a “play-off” following the parliamentary elections in October 2019. The curtailing of civil rights due to the coronavirus, with strong restrictions on leaving the house, is seriously impeding fair competition during the election campaign. In his bid for re-election, Duda is taking advantage of state resources – for instance, with his trips as president – while his rivals are stifled by the lockdown. The election campaign under lockdown, which is by definition imbalanced, the last-minute changes to the electoral law, the lack of clarity about the date of the election and the huge doubts about whether it can be conducted entirely by post, as well as fairly, mean that Poles are openly discussing boycotting the election.

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Poland’s 16th year in the EU. An unsuccessful thaw before the coronavirus storm

Poland’s sixteenth year in the EU featured changes in the top jobs in Brussels (partly linked to the European Parliament’s electoral cycle) and the Polish parliamentary elections, which the Law and Justice (PiS) party won again. This formed the basis for attempts at a “new opening” in relations between the European Commission and Warsaw, which have flared up with Brussels’ successive decisions to launch disciplinary proceedings concerning PiS’ judicial changes. From the start of her career in Brussels, Ursula von der Leyden, Jean-Claude Juncker’s successor as president of the Commission, opted for a kind of “normalisation” in relations with PiS, asking the party’s MEPs to back her candidacy during the summer of 2019. Without their support in the Parliament, it would have been more difficult for her to be chosen and, while no binding promises were made in negotiations with PiS, there were plenty of signals of a “thaw” in her contact with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. However, Warsaw did not take advantage of the opportunity for a “thaw” offered by Brussels last year. As a result, disputes over the rule of law remain a major burden for Poland. Despite that rest of the EU knows how to (and still wants to) separate them from other subjects when working with the Poles.

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Digital challenges for civil rights

COVID-19 plague is testing the system of fundamental rights i.a. by legal and political acrobatics around the elections in Poland, ‘decree democracy’ in Hungary, an EU disputes over tracing applications in Europe. The EU institutions are able to defend effectively only at certain areas since Brussels has the strongest powers only in areas regulated by specific EU’s legislation regulations, such as the GDPR. GDPR rules are now of great importance in EU’s coordination of tracing applications’ development which should help Europe in alleviating social distancing rules in a safe way. The EU institutions strive to minimize the risk of degeneration from tracing and controlling COVID-19 into an abusive surveillance of EU citizens.

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Will the EU stick to the ambitious Green Deal?

Before the pandemic, Brussels focused on energy transformation, accelerating the Union’s adaptation to the digital economy and increasing its geopolitical role. The European Commission is now arguing that the fight against the plague and the EU’s exiting from the corona crisis must not overshadow these pre-epidemic goals. But building and maintaining social consensus within the EU and among EU countries regarding the Green Deal will require enormous efforts, including EU budget trade-offs. Without a sense of social justice in this area, the Green Deal can collapse.

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How is the Union preparing for future crises?

The pandemic has exposed deficiencies in EU crisis management, but it is not expected to lead to deep reform. EU countries want better coordination by Brussels, but at the same time they do not intend to give it significant powers in the field of public health or borders. However, EU institutions are quite good at managing the current crisis through persuasion, and Brussels intends to strengthen the Union’s resilience to future crises with rather small and politically non-controversial steps. One of these is the creation of medical equipment and medicines reserves, to which EU countries could reach in case of a health crisis.

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London between sovereignty and access to the EU

Brussels and the UK have to negotiate a post-Brexit agreement on their new economic relations by this autumn. The negotiations will probably be conducted until the very last moment in attempt to avoid costly “no-deal”. The most contentious point is the EU’s demand to guarantee a “level playing field”, which would lead to London not lowering key standards, including in the field of environmental protection and labor law, and sticking to EU rules on state aid (i.a. subsidies for companies). The post-Brexit negotiations have so far yielded almost no results, but pessimism began to decrease in Brussels from mid-June despite of persistent lack of trust to Johnson as a huge negotiating burden.

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Pandemic erosion of democracy?

The European Union is highly diversified in terms of the impact of the COVID19 plague on the state of democracy and civil rights. The pandemic has worsened problems where they have already been quite bad. But there’ve been also strengthening of positive trends. Viktor Orban used the plague to further strengthen his “illiberal democracy” and the pandemic turmoil around the presidential election in Poland further weakened checks and balances. But on the other hand, the epidemy exposes populists’ helplessness in some EU countries and does not prompt Europeans to easily give up their freedoms.


German breakthrough in the EU

The Brussels custom requires that the country leading the Council of the EU should refrain, as an “honest broker”, from pushing for its views for six months. But the corona crisis has made Berlin not only to hold back, but to break some of its previous political taboos, as it happened with the Recovery Fund. Berlin turned its back on the coalition of the northern states of the EU (with Netherlands as its most energetic member). And it agreed to some ideas promoted by Paris to save the cohesion of the EU’s internal market. And to save Rome from the Italian eurosceptics.

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Difficult green EU revolution

The Green Deal, the much-needed decarbonisation of the EU, is called its „new growth strategy”, but that does not mean a shortcut to paradise. The key to its success will be persuading Europeans to bear the cost of this difficult green transformation for a long time. Apart from supporting professional retraining and supporting poorer households hit by higher energy prices, the EU should quickly show ordinary citizens that the green transition is a new economic dynamic capable of creating many new jobs fairly rapidly. The European Commission is very much counting on a forthcoming „renovation wave” when it comes to buildings.

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What does Macron need the Weimar Triangle for?

Poland’s passiveness in the EU, attachment to the złoty and entanglement in the dispute over the rule of law are making it much more difficult for it take part in far-reaching joint initiatives with Berlin and Paris.

Nevertheless, in France, interest in Poland and the rest of this part of the EU is growing. Following in Germany’s footsteps, President Emmanuel Macron is banking on a “compartmentalised” approach to Poland, in which disputes over the rule of law (readily delegated to the EU institutions in Brussels) need not contaminate cooperation on other EU matters completely. He is seeking Poland’s support when it comes to promoting corrections to EU competition policy, which is meant to support the EU’s industrial policy. However, getting Warsaw to cooperate loyally on climate policy is key.

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Founded in Warsaw in 2017, In.Europa Institute is a smart and independent forum for debate on EU affairs.

In.Europa selects the topics of most importance for Europe and successfully introduce them into the public debate. We want to deal with areas of life where in the Union brings tangible benefits to its citizens, we do not want to see the Union in isolation from the reality surrounding us. In.Europa believes in the European project and in the ways that have been beneficial to Poland and the Poles, we do not want force ourselves to represent phony objectivism.

We offer insights on EU affairs for policy makers, young professionals and public opinion through regular events and research publications.