Monday, 23 March 2020

COVID-19 and the euro

On March 4th I presented a report in Brussels to the GUE-NGL group of the European Parliament. It had been commissioned by Luke Ming Flanagan MEP and was titled ‘THE EUROZONE CRISIS: WAS THE EURO ITSELF A PRIMARY CAUSE?’.

By the standard of many such reports to the European Parliament on various subjects it was a lengthy and a weighty tome, for which I duly apologised; 17 chapters taking us on a journey from the concept of the euro/EU (they were intertwined from the start), through the fundamentally flawed design and the disastrously flawed crisis response, to eventual belated quasi-stabilisation (many of the original flaws are still there).

Had I been compiling it today, however, it would have been even longer; there would have been one more chapter.

COVID-19
Remember that foul and insulting acronym, the PIIGS – Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain, to which was shortly added little Cyprus? Have a look at this table, in which countries are ranked in terms of Death/Total Cases of COVID-19 – notice anything?

Those six countries are highlighted in red; in yellow, below them all, is Germany.
(Extracted from www.worldometers.info)

A few qualifications to make, on the statistics: while Deaths/Total Cases is used to rank the countries, the final column, Total Cases/1 million population, is very pertinent. It gives us an idea of where each country is in terms of progression of the virus and here we can see that it’s looking bad for both Greece and Cyprus – they’re only in the early stages but already recording a high mortality rate.

In Ireland’s case, in terms of progression we’re beyond Greece and Cyprus but behind the others. We’re also well behind Germany yet already we’re worse off – albeit marginally – in mortality rate. Hopefully, however (and the numbers do give us a small glimmer of hope) we won’t be as hard hit as Italy and Spain.

GERMANY – THE OUTLIER
In the report there is an entire chapter dedicated to Germany, for very valid reasons.

There is no doubt whatsoever that there are a number of explanations why some countries are harder hit than others in this vile viral pandemic, no doubt either that Germany has responded quickly and decisively to this crisis, as was recommended by the World Health Organisation. But there is also another reason  why Germany isn’t suffering as much as others, and it is a significant reason, a reason that occupies a central place in the report and which was itself central to the euro design – neoliberalism and its conjoined twin, austerity.

As part of the cost-cutting austerity measures forced on the periphery by the European Commission and the European Council, and enforced by the politicised and weaponised ECB, public services were decimated, most particularly, public health services. The result of those cuts, the result of those absolutely unnecessary austerity measures, are now stark, plain for all to see in that table.

A word too on Netherlands, France, Belgium, in the table above. While not included in the ‘PIIGS’ (in fact they were among those leading the assault on us), they too have been enthusiastic embracers of neoliberalism and austerity.

Anyway, this damage is done. But by Jesus, when it’s all over, when COVID-19 has been consigned to dark history, there has to be a reckoning. And in that reckoning, and unlike what happened after the financial crisis when the blame and the cost were transferred from those who caused it – the 0.1% –  to us, the 99.9%, this time the voice of the people WILL be heard.