In this most unusual year, the European summer offered the strangest feeling of all: normalcy. As the United States battled through a frightening second wave of coronavirus infections, Europe celebrated the waning of its first. Tourism was still subdued and masks were still a must. But schools mostly ended typically, commuters returned to public transportation and office life, and social life resumed in most forms, from dinner parties to after-work drinks.
It did not last long. In the autumn it was clear that a new wave of infections had arrived on the continent. By the end of the year, it was clear that the outbreaks were well beyond the control of most governments. Dreaded national lockdowns had returned in late December in Germany, the UK, the Netherlands and beyond as policy makers tried to buy time for vaccines to arrive.
Yet even as the pandemic pushed Europe to its borders, it has revealed the diversity of its political unity: the continent’s response to the coronavirus followed a common pattern, but each country has done so in its own way and under its own restrictions. Sometimes these differences were windows into national cultural curiosities. In other cases they have meant the difference between life and death on a large scale.
Here are the best foreign policy articles documenting how Europe dealt with its second wave.
1. It’s a new Europe – if you can keep it
by Adam Tooze, August 7th
In the doldrums leading up to the second wave of the pandemic, the European Union focused on figuring out whether it could recover economically and politically from the first. Adam Tooze records the great leap forward Europe has made and lays the foundation for a concerted effort to deal with the coming virus-related shock waves.
“Acting constructively, both in the face of deeply unpleasant facts and deep internal divisions, is a very formidable achievement, one of which the United States has so far proven remarkably incapable,” writes Tooze. “However, there is no room for European complacency. For COVID-19, this may be the end of the beginning. But there is very rough water ahead of us. “
2. Europe does not want locks. It wants government.
by Caroline de Gruyter, November 6th
Europeans largely accepted the first round of bans and restrictions, and populist critics of government shutdowns were often drowned out. But when lockdowns and other restrictive measures returned with the second wave, backlash returned too. Europe’s violent street protests against government-imposed public health restrictions attracted widespread attention, especially as they occasionally led to violent clashes with police.
Caroline de Gruyter examines not only what the demonstrators were against, but also what they were for – namely greater security for more state protection. “Dissatisfaction is growing, as is pressure on the state to perform better in this second wave,” she writes. “But as long as citizens fear contagion, citizens want their governments to do more, not less.”
3. Why does Belgium have the highest COVID-19 death rate in the world?
by Felipe Araujo, November 26th
Europe has typically served as a counterpoint to portraits of the improperly governed United States during the pandemic. However, some of the richest and most developed European countries are struggling the most with the pandemic – Belgium’s death rate is the worst in the world. Felipe Araujo examines what is responsible for Belgium’s disastrous public health performance, noting deep regional and political divisions, and recalling that even affluent Western Europe has its own patterns of national dysfunction.
4. Switzerland opts for austerity measures compared to life
by Joseph de Weck, November 10th
Switzerland has a worldwide reputation for good governance and orderly righteousness. Joseph de Weck describes how the obvious economic pragmatism, the business-first approach and the divided federal government of the country contributed to the fact that Switzerland managed the second wave this year, socially and ultimately economically catastrophic.
“The Alpine country is immune to global crises – the Swiss believe that this is the lesson from history,” writes de Weck. This has created feelings of complacency and a widespread refusal to take action that could increase government spending or harm the economy.
5. Europe needed borders. The coronavirus built them.
by Caroline de Gruyter, December 4th
At the start of the pandemic, much attention was paid to the resurfacing of borders within Europe as countries blocked some travel and battled for medical care. However, the pandemic has shown more consistent development in the long term, writes Caroline de Gruyter: Europe has set limits to the outside world and has strengthened its own identity in the process. Unlike previous crises, the coronavirus outbreak and the associated security loopholes have actually underscored what it means to be European, a nebulous concept since the EU was founded – and long before it.
“During the euro crisis and the migration crisis, the European countries fell into the national-sovereign reflex,” writes de Gruyter. “But COVID-19 has brought Europeans closer together.”