"But where was the EU?" How Europe failed Italy in the midst of a health crisis

March 21, 2020

The EU’s first actions with respect to the COVID-19 global emergency started when, following the first few cases registered in the Union, the Presidency of the Council of the EU activated the Integrated Political Crisis Response at the end of January, to help the coordination and the sharing of information between political actors of the EU. From that day until February 7th, several meetings of the Health Security Committee concluded that national health systems of the member states and the EU bodies were highly prepared to face a possible COVID-19 outbreak in Europe. Furthermore, an EU Council meeting of February 13th recognized the global threat and declared, inter alia, its readiness to examine [...] possible ways and means to provide assistance.


It seemed like we were ready to fight. At the same time, though, such a conflict was deemed an improbable event. After all, Wuhan is 8,677 kilometres away from Bruxelles. 


But viruses travel fast on trains and planes and the day of the battle eventually came. Since February 21st to March 20th 2020, 102,649 cases have been reported in the EU and the UK, with 4,885 deaths. Italy is the most affected among European countries, registering almost 40% of all European cases. 


Where was the EU?

Now, the question that spontaneously arises is: what was done during the three weeks that followed the outbreak of the virus, until the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a pandemic?  The WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that such a decision was taken on the basis of the “alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction”. 


“Inaction” is