The coronavirus has created a global, political, societal, economic and commercial crisis. The crisis not only can be seen as a disruptive period of uncertainty and danger, but also can be seen as a defining moment for the world order and the alliances that have been shaping that order for a long time.
In spite of the role globalization has ironically played in spreading the coronavirus, the new virus is shaping up what is going to be a tough test for globalization itself and coalitions and alliances that struggled to stay intact in the face of the pandemic.
The coronavirus emergence has brought into question what political, economic and even defense alliances that shaped the world order are about.
Another Threat to European Unity
Since the beginning of the crisis, every European government was struggling to protect its population and economy. Rich countries like Germany were not digging deeper in to their pockets to help out poorer Italy and Spain, while the European Union’s (EU) open-border Schengen agreement was in tatters, with travel restrictions in place between the European neighbors.
This had promoted the Eurosceptic beliefs that the EU is morelike a marriage of convenience than a union bounded by a sense of solidarity, in bad times as well as good. It also helped the narratives about the collapse of the integration to spread across the union.
Tamás Deutsch, a member of the European parliament(MEP) from the Hungarian governing party argued that “millions of EU citizens feel that Europe has let them down (…) China and Russia are sending medical tools. Currently, unfortunately, it is not the EU institutions that help the member states.”
In fact, EU nations have struggled to coordinate a response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 135,000 lives on the continent. The bloc’s economy is projected to contract by 8.3% in 2020.
EU leaders at last had to consider a new proposal for an economic rescue package in July in a bid to break the deadlock after four days of fractious talks that were described as some of the most bitterly divided in years.
However, a deal was reached after a marathon of negotiations that almost became the longest in EU history. The deal, that involves €750billion ($859billion) in grants and loans to counter the impact of the pandemic in the 27-member bloc, was described by the French President Emmanuel Macron as historic.
However, many analysts see the stimulus package as a seed for more division as it will be mostly paid out in grants rather than bailout loans, which in the eurozone crisis came with interest rates and austerity strings attached, building anger among voters especially in southern Europe.
Another Fracture in Transatlantic Alliance
Covid-19 symptoms has also appeared on the transatlantic alliance that has served as the unshakable foundation of European stability for more than 70 years.
The relations between the EU and the US entered another chapter of tension when the union declined to include the US in its list of “safe countries,” meaning that American travelers will be unwelcome inside the bloc for the foreseeable future, due to the high US coronavirus infection numbers. Controversially, the list of safe countries includes China — the country where the virus originated.
The European decision came after a similar action by the US in the beginning of the crisis. The European decision was seen as a reflection to a rising sentiment that the US has left them alone in the midstof the pandemic.
A recent poll of thousands of European citizens found that the majority have an increasingly negative view of the US as a result of the coronavirus crisis, with just 2% of the surveyed Europeans see the US was helpful in the fight against Covid-19.
Around two-thirds ofthe people surveyed said that their view of the US had worsened during the health crisis, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think-tank, which provides research on European foreign and security policy, said.
The poll also found that Covid-19 had increased Europeans’ negativity towards both Russia (which is perceived to have not taken active international role in resolving the crisis) and China, where the pandemic was first reported in December. This was particularly so in France and Denmark, where 62% of respondents reported a more negative view of China.
Economic Alliances Not Immune Either
The coronavirus also had an important role to play in breaking up the Saudi Arabia-Russia oil alliance, when Russia refused to reduce oil production in order to keep prices for oil at moderate level after the drop of demand due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions. This economic conflict resulted in a sharp drop in oil prices over the spring of 2020.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries(OPEC) had to slash oil production in April to the lowest level since the Gulf War in 1991, as it escalated efforts to revive global markets just as a resurgence of the coronavirus startedthreatening demand again.
However, the initial failure to reach a deal cast light over instability of the coalition that used to control the oil market for years.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) report to this year’s United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF) highlights that a rise in trade-restrictive measures since 2019 — especially between major economies — and the suspension of activities of the WTO’s Appellate Body have created new challenges for the multilateral trading system. In addition, the COVID-19 crisis is having a major impact on global supply and demand, leading to disruptions in global supply chains for both goods and services.
At this time of crisis, the multilateral trading system becomes all the more important, providing a forum for a coordinated response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the report says.
For many experts, the post-coronavirus world represents a step-change in world order, pushing countries toward isolation and setting the stage for conflicts.
However, it may be unfair to blame the pandemic for all evils. Even before the pandemic, the EU for example, was already suffering a group of setbacks including the Brexit divorce, climate change issues, migrants and budget complications.
Besides,it was normal that after nearly four years of US President Donald Trump’s America First policy, that allies have become divided on issues that require an urgent and unified response, ranging from the Middle East, arms control, trade and China and to the coronavirus.
After all, a pandemic may be only the last nail in the coffin that was in the making for a while.