asoros3_Emanuele CremaschiGetty Images_italycoronavirusnurse Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images

The Spirit of Milan

The COVID-19 crisis has given the European Union an opportunity to honor its high-flown talk of values and rights, and assert itself as a global leader. To seize it, the EU and its member states must demonstrate much greater solidarity, not least toward Italy, than they have so far.

NEW YORK – The headlines are horrifying. Shortages of vital equipment forcing doctors to make battlefield decisions about who lives and who dies. Long lines of sick people waiting in vain for a test or a hospital bed. Empty businesses, stores, bars, and restaurants bringing local economies the world over to a grinding halt. And a grim accounting of which countres are hardest hit by the COVID-19 coronavirus, with the United States now surging ahead – recording nearly 61,000 more confirmed cases than China, home to the original outbreak.

In Europe, the pandemic has hit especially hard in Italy, which has been on national lockdown since March 9 in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. As of March 30, Italy has reported nearly 98,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. More than 10,700 Italians, mostly in the northern Lombardy region, have died of the disease so far. Milan, the regional capital, is more than a mainstay of Italy’s economy. The once bustling city is inextricably linked to the European project and is a crucial driver of the European economy as a whole.

Yet, as the death toll rises and the region sees transmission rates higher than anywhere else on the continent, the European Union and its member states have been slow to step up in any meaningful way and show solidarity with their ailing neighbor. Instead, EU member states have closed borders and turned inward. Italy’s plight was made worse by the border closures, which cut off much-needed supplies and medical equipment.