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April 16, 2020

Local coordination key in management of pandemic

The pandemic is still going on, but Germany seem to have fared far better through the crisis than others. Why?

One of Germany's advantages in managing this pandemic is that it has a well-established country-wide coordination on health, despite this being a prerogative of the Länder. The German federal republic has not one public health authority but 400 different authorities throughout the country. Public health is run at the local level, with health authorities and departments run by municipality and rural district administrations. France and Italy, by contrast, found that it is hard to organise a crisis response without the logistical help of the mayors and the economic assistance of the regions. 

The Covid-19 pandemic requires coordination of logistics, material and policy responses to manage local hotspots or the distribution of protective gear and tests. Germany was well ahead of the curve and prepared, needing nothing so dramatic as the policy shifts we have seen in the UK. The lockdown was gradual and health care had enough time to prepare for the peak. Germany had the institutional infrastructure and culture to coordinate its response at the local level throughout the country. 

Early testing in Germany was a result of cooperation, too, though a different kind. The Robert Koch Institute played a crucial role in this. It coordinating a network of public, private, and university laboratories and research facilities to identify solutions to diseases which threaten public health. It was the collaboration between a private biotech company and the Charité hospital in Berlin that developed comparatively reliable tests already in early January, and had 4m testing kits ready by mid-March which they then distributed throughout the Länder and abroad.

The next challenge will be the end of the lockdown and how to manage an uptick in infections should they recur. Here, too, coordination is key. In France the German example seems to inspire the president. Emmanuel Macron is counting on the delegates of municipal councils, the so-called grands élus, not the MPs nor the government, to write up the exit strategy. Could this new collaboration between the state and the municipalities, so essential in Germany, acquire a permanent place in France after the crisis? Cécile Cornudet thinks this is likely, and suggests an informal council of grands élus, a bit like the council of ministers, to steer the country through the times ahead. A rebalancing of power between central and local authorities in France could be an unexpected side effect of the health crisis.

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April 16, 2020

A new migrant wave from Turkey?

Greek authorities appealed to Nato yesterday for help in defending its maritime borders, as the country prepares itself for another wave of migrants. Satellite images suggest a movement of refugees from inland deportation centres in Turkey towards the west coast of the country, regions traditionally used by traffickers to smuggle people to Greek islands just kilometres away in the Aegean sea. Satellite and intelligence reports imply that Turkey could be releasing tens of thousands migrants. Greek authorities have already increased coastguard, air force and navy patrols, in preparation for an influx of migrants. 

With the outbreak of Covid-19 and the EU's lockdown measures the influx of migrants had initially slowed down. There are some reports of migrant ships still out in the Mediterranean sea, which are in serious danger as harbours remain closed due to the pandemic. During lockdown times, a new wave of migrants, some possibly infected with Covid-19, just adds to the political challenges not only for Greece but for the EU as well. 

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April 16, 2020

How Covid-19 condemns EU to geopolitical insignificance

What the Brexit years have taught us is that pro-European advocacy is based on strong emotions, but often lacks strategic direction. At no point did the Remainers consider a tactical retreat or a change in their vote-losing discourse. If there is one lesson from Brexit for the rest of the EU, it is to beware of unthinking advocacy. The EU does not need more fanboys who push and push, but strategists who understand that the way forward sometimes takes sideways turn. Our observation does not pertain specifically to the UK. Brussels, Berlin and Paris are some of the least strategic places on Earth.

We agree with the German commentator Jan Techau, who states flatly that the EU will be the big geopolitical loser of the coronavirus lockdown. Whereas our focus has been mostly on the foreseeably-catastrophic economic consequences, he takes the viewpoint of a geostrategic defence analyst, and arrives at the same conclusion in his area. 

He said that all past efforts to turn the EU into a geostrategic power have failed. He calls the EU a derived power. Europe’s role has become that of a bystander in global politics.

The end of what he call pax americana and the new financial reality will mean that European countries will start to call Beijing and Moscow when in need, rather than each other.

Covid-19 has accelerated that moment. As many European companies struggle to survive, they become ideal acquisition targets for Chinese ones. He cited German defence analysts saying that Europe’s bonsai armies cannot afford to be pruned any further without increasing the hard security risks on the continent.

The problem in Europe is not lack of resources. The EU is richer than Russia. The problem is a lack of readiness to deploy them. As to the much-discussed Marshall Plan, Techau reminds us that it was not just about economic reconstruction. Security cooperation was a vital component of it.

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