Since I moved from Spain to the UK in 2016, the Brexit debate has followed me even in my dreams. I have spent years defending the value and importance of the European Union (EU) and arguing that Britain’s decision to leave it was a mistake. I am not so sure anymore.

During these last four years, I have been an adamant defender of the European Union.

As an EU supporter, I was appalled by its late reaction to COVID-19. The EU only closed its borders when most of its members had already done so, and failed to create a coordinated plan to buy medical material and provide economic support. While EU countries fight each other over respirators and loans, my hope on a united international response to the pandemic is slowly crumbling.

I arrived in the UK less than two months after the Brexit referendum in which the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union. This decision became the most common topic of conversation throughout my first year of university, especially when people found out about my Spanish nationality. The same happened when I went back home.

During these last four years, I have been an adamant defender of the European Union. I have argued with university classmates over the financial support that this institution provides for its members and the importance of open borders for trade and travel.

I have been disappointed by the slow and inefficient response that the European Union has had to the pandemic.

As a Spanish person, I am thankful for all the support that Europe has given to my country. Spain’s recovery from the 2008 economic crash has been possible thanks to our membership to the EU. Moreover, as someone in the world of academia, I recognize the dependence that universities have on European funding.

I have supported Europe because I believe there’s strength in numbers. However, when times of need have arrived, the EU states have failed to stick together. The EU’s response to COVID-19  has been slow and inefficient.

Despite the threat that this virus presented since December, the EU failed to create a plan to control a possible outbreak. To this day, there is still no common system across Europe for testing, data acquisition, or quarantine guidelines. Each country has had to decide individually what measures to take.

“This initial lack of solidarity with Italy has already made for a pretty big reputation damage,” said Gostynska-Jakubowska

The first decision that the EU made to stop COVID-19 was the closing of  Schengen borders, on March 17th. However, by this time, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain had already established strict border restrictions, and the United States had banned flights to Europe.

Even when Italy asked for Europe’s help, criticizing the European countries’ bans on exportations of personal protective equipment, the UE was slow to reply. 

“This initial lack of solidarity with Italy has already made for pretty big reputation damage,” said Gostyńska-Jakubowska. “Average Italians will probably remember more favorably the fact that the Chinese are now sending them equipment and will hold it against the member states for turning their back on them.”

While EU countries fight each other over respirators and loans, my hope on an international and solidary response to the pandemic is slowly crumbling.

The EU has recently agreed on some economic measures to financially support its members. For example, they have lifted the rule that governments must keep their budget deficits under 3% of their GDP. The European Central Bank has also created a €750 billion emergency plan to buy government debt.

Nonetheless, it is not enough, and governments keep debating. Last week Mauro Ferrari resigned from his post as head of the European Research Council. He told The Times: “I arrived at the ERC a fervent supporter of the EU [but] the COVID-19 crisis completely changed my views.”

On April 7th the European finance ministers had a 14-hour online meeting to discuss further financial aid. It arrived to a dead end.  A second meeting a few days later approved a €500 billion European package of funds to support member states during the pandemic. However, countries still fight each other. Italy and Spain defend the need for “coronabonds” that would raise money against shared European debt. However, nations such as Germany and the Netherlands strongly oppose them.

Despite the knowledge of the possible threat of COVID-19, the EU failed to create a coordinated plan to control a possible outbreak

One diplomatic source told CNN: “After this is over, we can’t all go back to sitting around the table and pretending this didn’t happen.”

I have always defended the European Union. I believe that international institutions keep nationalism at bay and promote a more peaceful world. I do not want the EU to fail, or collapse. However, it needs to do much better if it wants to maintain its pre-pandemic position.

  • Beatriz Valero de Urquía

    Beatriz Valero de Urquia is a historian, writer and journalist. She graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2020 and spends her time between Spain and the UK reading, listening to musicals and writing her first novel.