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Will Europe Lead or Lag?

The coronavirus pandemic has posed a direct challenge to national governments and health systems worldwide, and it is already clear that neither the pandemic nor the economic fallout can be managed without global coordination. Facilitating that response would enable the European Union to assert itself on the world stage – if it doesn’t succumb yet again to internal division and paralysis.

In this Big Picture, Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, reports that Europeans are converging around a common strategy and ready to contribute to global-level efforts. But former German foreign minister Sigmar Gabrieldisagrees, warning that EU member states are already lapsing into a self-defeating isolationism that will undercut broader European leadership initiatives.

On the domestic front, Central European University’s Maciej Kisilowski and Anna Wojciuk of the University of Warsaw call on Europeans to form national unity governments in order to confront the coronavirus. But Princeton’s Jan-Werner Mueller advises opposition parties not to abandon their proper role just when authoritarian power grabs have become more likely.

Adequately mitigating the economic fallout of the pandemic will be crucial for Europe, and Yanis Varoufakis of the University of Athens worries that economic policymakers are likely to agree on an overly timid response that leaves the bloc unprepared for what is coming. But Lucrezia Reichlin of London Business School sees the issue the other way around, arguing that the economic shock presents the EU with an opportunity to create effective new crisis-management structures.

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