It is a great pleasure and honor to address readers of The Japan Times on Europe Day. The day is especially significant this year, as it marks the 70th anniversary of the call by then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman to create a European coal and steel community, the embryo of what is the European Union today.
Seven decades after that seminal speech, Europe — and indeed the entire world — is experiencing a watershed moment amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. This unprecedented challenge has raised many questions: will European solidarity be maintained, even enhanced? How will the EU fare in the post-pandemic world? Will the strategic partnership between the EU and Japan remain relevant?
Many countries struggled with the initial crisis response and the EU institutions and member state governments were no exception.
After this shaky start, however, we have now found our bearings. From creating a common stockpile of medical equipment to facilitating the cross-border treatment of patients and coordinating the repatriation of stranded citizens, European solidarity has taken root.
The EU is funding research projects to find ways to better prepare for, diagnose and treat patients, and has introduced more flexibility regarding fiscal rules and state aid for member states. In addition, the EU can contribute funding to national schemes to help people keep their jobs. We also now have a “European roadmap” to coordinate efforts to prepare for the return to normalcy.
In parallel to working on solidarity within its borders, the EU, together with member states and EU financial institutions, is mobilizing €20 billion to support partner countries, especially those in Africa and in Europe’s neighborhood, in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic and its social, health and economic consequences.
A global pandemic needs global solutions and the EU is committed to being at the center of the fight, working closely with multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the International Monetary Fund. The current crisis cannot be resolved within one country, or by going it alone. Only by pulling together and cooperating across borders can we beat the virus and contain its consequences — the EU, with its 27 member states, is a good example of this.
We must also not lose sight of the post-coronavirus world. The EU will promote a green recovery, in line with the European Green Deal that commits us to making Europe climate neutral by 2050. We will also step up efforts to deliver on our digital strategy, so that new technologies benefit citizens and business while remaining in line with European values.
Japan is a key partner in shaping the new order that emerges from the pandemic. We can work together to reignite the global economy and world trade in a sustainable manner, as well as in the spirit of multilateralism.
There is also much potential in the area of joint research, not least to strengthen our resilience against future pandemics. It is fortuitous that we have an economic partnership agreement and a strategic partnership agreement to underpin and guide our work in this regard.
Schuman observed that Europe “will not be made all at once. … It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.” The EU is now taking those words to heart as it responds to the novel coronavirus crisis.
This content was compiled in collaboration with the Delegation of the European Union to Japan. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.