Corona and transborder solidarity

, by Jo Leinen

The Corona-Pandemic has shown the good and the bad in politics as in people’s relations. Living close to the German -French border, I could witness the ups and downs of transborder separation as well as cooperation.
Mulhouse on the Swiss border was one of the hotspots of Corona outbreak. The German Institute for Virologie in Berlin classified immediately the Grand-Est as high-risk region. The German Minister of the Interior than closed all borders between Germany and France. But the Grand-Est is a mega region from the Swiss border till the Belgian border. Its surface is even bigger than Belgium. My neighbour Département Moselle had no higher infection curve than my German region Saarland. There was not the slightest need to cut people away.
But closing borders is still a reflex of national governments in difficult situations. Because many challenges do not follow borderlines, these measures are by a large degree propaganda, a placebo and useless to solve the problem.
Closing borders from one day to the other caused a lot of difficulties and stress for hundreds thousands people who got blocked for their cross border activities, family meetings, jobs ore shopping basic needs in the next village.
Austria closed the border to Italy, Poland to Germany, Sweden to Denmark and so on.
The Schengen Treaty is misused and put in the wastebasket. We have to be very vigilant that border controls are not staying forever.
Closing borders is a message to the wider public that the danger comes from abroad and that the others are the troublemakers. It is worrying how quickly stigmatisation and prejudice can come back. People suddenly fear people because they are living on the other side of the national border.
Between the German Saarland and the French Moselle the borders disappeared a generation ago. Nobody could see or imagine a border. Quite a number of villages are existing door to door.
The Corona borders has shown ugly moments. FORD, BOSCH and other companies locked out workers from France for weeks. BMW did not repair cars from the other side of the border and so on. Unimaginable stories in a region where Franco-German friendship is celebrated on any occasion.
These incidents are nevertheless not the whole picture. There is more and more signs of solidarity. Mayors across the border organised video conferences to confirm their friendship. Twin cities send masks and medical equipment to their partners. Even more visible was the offer of the German Lander Baden-Wurttemberg, Rhineland-Pfalz and Saarland to transfer patients from overcrowded French hospitals to medical care in German hospitals. German helicopters transporting French people to our hospitals was a strong sign that empathy and solidarity across borders is existing. The same happened with patients from Italy and Spain, as well to hospitals in Austria and Luxembourg
In some weeks and months, we will analyse the Corona crisis and the many deficits on national as well on European and international level. Such a virus has no national passport. Pandemics are a transnational challenge. Cooperation across borders, especially for neighbour regions and countries are an absolute must. Corona has shown how dependent we are from each other.
In the European Union, we need to learn some lessons. Health policy must be much higher on the agenda. The European Centre for Disease Coordination (ECDC) must be strengthened in its capacity to monitor, inform pro-active and present guidelines for risk management. The EU has to become more resilient against such challenges. We have to build strategic reserve stocks for drugs and medical equipment. It is as well worrying how dependent Europa is from China in basic supplies in the health sector.
Overall, the practice of solidarity in the EU is still too slow and weak. The upcoming ‘Conference on the Future of Europe’ will be the next occasion to discuss and agree on a better and more efficient Union. Federalists should actively participate and make their demands and proposals.