The first months of the Covid-19 Crisis in retrospective– témoignages des 4 coins de l’Europe

02 July 2020 /

This article was originally published in our latest print magazine #32/June 2020. Read the entire magazine here

The Norwegian experience: social distancing as a way of life
Kristin Heidebroek

At first, Norwegians were little worried about the new coronavirus outbreak. Social distancing is a Norwegian way of life. The stereotypical Norwegian greet from afar, avoid crowded place, and never sit next to someone on the bus. Norwegians are really good at social distancing. So good, many would happily volunteer to distance themselves and head down to their remote cabins in the Norwegian wilderness. Though, mayors from those small communes expressed concerns with city people bringing the virus, and what they would do given the lack of hospitals and health staff. When the government, with much reluctancy, passed a law forbidding travels to cabins, it then struck Norwegians that this crisis would not be much fun.

All jokes aside, Norway’s problem with coronavirus seriously began when the worldwide demand for oil slowed down, triggering a price war. The oil-dependent economy saw its Norwegian kroner dramatically weakened. The price of euro became the most expensive it ever has, and the price of dollar surged. In addition to this, as businesses closed and employees were temporarily laid off, Norwegian unemployment surpassed by far the level of the 2009 crisis. The economic impact of this new crisis brought Norwegian politics in unchartered waters. 

In time of crisis, Norwegian politicians will often resort to Keynesian style policies and spend generously to keep the economy going. Norwegians will often say they do not mind paying high taxes if it means a better quality of life for everyone. Now that they are at the other receiving end, they are eagerly waiting for the state to come to their rescue. However, as unemployment grows, the state loses one of its most important resources of income, namely from labour. Previous experience of crisis have showed how resilient the Norwegians and their economy can be, but the question remains if this time will be different.

Italy: first EU country to be bit
Francesca Canali

As an Italian who lives abroad, the early outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic in Italy has allowed me to observe the developments elsewhere in Europe through a different perspective. I learnt about the seriousness of this health crisis when my hometown, Milan, started to being severely hit by the virus: it was the middle of February, and most European states were still living a rather normal life.

Italy was the first EU country to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. On February, 29th, more than 1,000 people had already been tested positive, with most infections being registered in the region of Lombardy alone. Some soft measures were implemented, but the further escalation of the crisis was the turning point leading the Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, to follow China’s example and impose a nationwide lockdown on March, 8th. At the time, the entire European continent was observing the Italian situation carefully but wasn’t responding accordingly. European countries didn’t take similar precautions and the impression was an overall underestimation of the seriousness of the crisis, just like the Italian authorities had done a month before.

During these moments, the prevailing feeling was confusion. On the one hand, Italians abroad were worried about their families and friends, but on the other, they were equally uncertain about the lopments of events in their host countries. Eventually, the health crisis evolved so quickly that in the space of a week most states (including Belgium) announced lockdown measures based on Italy’s example. However, a late response by the EU has produced consequences that go beyond a simple feeling of confusion, with Euroscepticism now significantly rising in Italy.

Federalism in Germany: Blessing or a curse?
Eileen Böhringer

In Germany, the Corona crisis has stimulated debate about the legitimacy of the country’s federal structure. Unlike the very unitary, centralised system in France, for example, Germany is divided into 16 “Bundesländer”, each with its own government and parliament. In the media, Germany was often portrayed as “patchwork quilt”: Indeed, even if there is a uniform law at the national level, the implementation can vary from one “Bundesland” to another. Federal ministers can only make proposals and recommendations, the final decision, however, is left to the “Länder”. This system has met much criticism in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, and occasionally, the situation degenerated into competition among federal ministers who used the crisis to boost their poll numbers.

Thus, voices were raised claiming that German federalism would block an effective management of the crisis. However, personally, I think that it should not be forgotten that there are important historical reasons for the existence of federalism in our country. Even if decision-making sometimes requires more time, Germany’s federal structure is above all synonymous with dialogue, compromise-seeking and power control.

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Frederic Göldner

When Berlin still banned gatherings of more than two households in May, I joked with my friends that we could take a 150 km train ride to have a legal barbecue dinner in a different state with less restrictions. But while having 16 different legislations might lead to incoherence, I am personally very glad to live in a federal state these days. I was not the only German who found it shocking to see how centralized governments like in France adopted an extremely strict “one-size-fits-all” approach that violated citizens’ fundamental rights – sometimes unreasonably and not leading to a more efficient mitigation of the pandemic.

Privacy and other civil rights are particularly cherished in Germany because of our historic experiences with the Nazi regime and the GDR’s surveillance and police state. While I was from the outset more than sceptic about the anti-lockdown demonstrations in Germany, I was relieved to see that the democratic discourse remained vivid and civil society debated controversially about the appropriateness of prohibitions and surveillance instruments. I think it is crucial to weigh the necessity of restrictive measures against their impact on the core principles of our society. Despite its shortcomings, the federal structure in Germany has helped safeguard checks and balances.

Le cas du Kosovo : La crise politique au cœur d’une crise sanitaire
Rinor Sojeva

25 mars 2020, 50 jours après la formation du gouvernement, la République du Kosovo se retrouve au cœur d’une énième crise politique qui la caractérise tant depuis son indépendance acquis 12 ans plus tôt. Ce fut la crise de trop, celle de la chute de la coalition de l’espoir menée par VV (Vetëvendosje, parti social-démocrate) – LDK (Ligue démocratique du Kosovo, centre-droite). Cette chute a fait renaître un sentiment de révolte contre la classe politique comme il y a 30 ans, à proportion retenu bien-sûr.

Cette énième crise politique fait presque oublier la plutôt bonne gestion de la crise du Covid-19 par le gouvernement technique d’Albin Kurti au sein de ce micro-état d’Europe de l’est. L’aéroport de Prishtina a été fermé le 9 mars 2020 à l’exception des rapatriements des ressortissants Kosovars étant restés à l’étranger. Les ressortissants étaient testés et obligés de rester au minimum 14 jours en quarantaine dans les logements étudiants de l’Université de Prishtina sous contrôle. Les établissements scolaires étaient fermés, mais certaines écoles ont prêté des ordinateurs et des tablettes aux familles défavorisées. De plus, des cours étaient donnés par une école communale à travers la télévision communale.

Néanmoins, la gestion du Covid-19 n’est rien face aux problèmes futurs. En plus de la crise politique, il y a de très grandes chances qu’une partie importante de la diaspora ne puisse pas rentrer au Kosovo pour y passer leurs vacances d’été. Cette diaspora représente environ 20% du PIB du pays. Sans l’investissement direct et indirect de ces derniers, on voit mal comment le pays pourra gérer la crise économique inévitable, combinée à celle d’une crise sociale dans un pays où l’écart entre les riches, profitant des avantages d’un système politique corrompu, et les citoyens ordinaires ne cesse de croître.

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