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EU’s Ursula von der Leyen Calls for Unity in Post-Pandemic World

September 18, 2020, 03.11 PM

The European Union has been buffeted for years by crises, from the financial meltdown of 2008 to feuds over migration and the protracted saga of Britain's exit from the bloc.

Solidarity among the 27 member states frayed badly at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, when countries refused to share protective medical kit with those worst-affected and closed borders without consultation to prevent the spread of the virus.

The bloc's leaders also jousted for months over a joint plan to rescue their coronavirus-throttled economies.

Read also: Lockdowns Battered The Eurozone Economy in Q2

But in July they agreed on a stimulus plan that paved the way for the European Commission to raise billions of euros on capital markets on behalf of them all, an unprecedented act of solidarity in almost seven decades of European integration.

"In the last months we have rediscovered the value of what we hold in common," Von der Leyen said. "We turned fear and division between member states into confidence in our union."

'Be courageous'

Turning to the troubled talks with London on the future relationship between the world's fifth-largest economy and biggest trading bloc, von der Leyen said every passing day reduces chances for sealing a new trade deal.

She stressed that the European Union and Britain negotiated and ratified their Brexit divorce deal and warned London the agreement "cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded or dis-applied".

Brexit talks were plunged into a new crisis this month after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put forward a new Internal Market Bill that would undercut Britain's Withdrawal Agreement.

Read also: Boris Johnson Backed by British MPs to Breach Brexit Treaty

That increased the risk of the most damaging, no-deal economic split precipitating at the end of the year.

Chiding EU countries for an ineffective foreign policy, von der Leyen said the bloc must get better at responding to events unfolding around the world.

Once able to boast of a soft power that helped transform communist neighbors into market economies, the EU increasingly finds itself unable to agree on common positions on diplomacy because of the need to secure unanimity among member states.

"When member states say Europe is too slow, I say to them 'be courageous and finally move to qualified majority voting'," she said.

"Be it in Hong Kong, Moscow or Minsk: Europe must take a clear and swift position."

(Writers: Philip Blenkinsop, Marine Strauss, John Chalmers | Editor: William Maclean)


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