The pandemic has already taken countless lives and caused enormous economic damage worldwide. While some countries are willingly working together to combat the virus, some countries have rejected taking a collaborative international approach to address the issue. What is it going to take to change these non-cooperative states’ behavior, if they can be changed at all?
The major mistake made in the international sphere was considering mostly nationalistic solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, as if oceans, mountains, or borders may defend countries from the virus. The only chance we have, and that all countries should learn, is that multilateral cooperation, although complicated, is the only successful strategy against the pandemic.
In order to change non-cooperative behavior, it will be key to point out elements of convergence that are different from the status quo and envision a general interest, which is not the sum of particular interests. This is partially what the European Union and its major member states have done with the recent deal in Brussels for a COVID-19 recovery fund of 750 billion euros (859 billion dollars), and it is a historic step in the right direction. That should be the modus operandi of politics, if we want to give new life to democracy. Otherwise, liberal democracies will inevitably degenerate into technocratic oligarchies or into nationalist, populist, or authoritarian regimes. This is the only way to allow our political systems to oppose the threats posed by unrestricted freedom, the conformism induced by fear, the proliferation of centers manipulating information, but also by the rise of technocracy and demagogy.
Given the current situation of the pandemic and international affairs, which scenario do you think the world is heading towards and why?
The first two scenarios are, unfortunately, the most plausible. They are also somehow complementary and may co-exist for a certain period. The technocratic element is key for the “restoration” or “business-as-usual” scenario, while the populist element is the key for the end-of-globalization scenario. The European Union, for instance, may merely survive, at least for some years, without turning towards full political integration, as originally envisioned by its founding fathers, De Gasperi, Spinelli, Monnet, Schuman, and Adenauer. Since the financial crisis, the European Union has had no real strategy, limiting itself on minimal leadership focused on managing critical events, often through technocratic governance. This, in turn, triggered a perception of de-politicization in many member states, helping the rise of radical right populism.
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Vittorio Emanuele Parsi is an international relations professor and the Director of the Advanced School of Economics and International Relations at the Catholic University of Milan. He is also Chair of the Italian Standing Group of International Relations. In addition to his latest book, Vulnerable: How the Pandemic Will Change the World, he is currently a columnist for Rome’s Il Messaggero. He has also held numerous seminars at universities worldwide including Georgetown University, University of Oxford, and Université de Saint-Joseph (Lebanon).