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EU ambassador says bloc overcoming slow COVID-19 response with solidarity

In Europe, leaders are discussing the same tough questions confronting the United States. When should pandemic restrictions be lifted? How hard will the road to recovery be? The European Union has agreed to create a massive recovery fund to try to rebuild devastated economies. Nick Schifrin reports and talks to the EU’s ambassador to the U.S., Stavros Lambrinidis, about the group's "solidarity."

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, European leaders met virtually to try and answer the same questions confronting the U.S., when to reopen? And how difficult will the road ahead be?

    Here's Nick Schifrin.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, European Union leaders agreed to create a massive recovery fund to try and help economies that have been devastated by COVID-19.

    And individual countries are beginning to open up.

    In Germany, some schools have started again. In Denmark, hairdressers reopened. And in Slovakia, you can go to flower shops and bookstores, although there aren't many customers.

    But much of the European Union remains closed. And the bloc confronts a fundamental challenge, as each country decides when to open up and how to keep its citizens safe.

    And so, to talk about this, I'm joined by the European Union's ambassador to Washington, Stavros Lambrinidis.

    Ambassador, thank you very much. Welcome to the "NewsHour."

    Washington, D.C., and individual states in the U.S. are confronting the same challenge. How do you coordinate from Brussels when countries open up?

  • Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis:

    Well, it's going to be a tough decision.

    We face the same challenges you do here in some ways. You open — you relax the measures too soon, you risk a new wave of infections. You take too long, you risk jobs and you risk the recovery.

    So, what we did in Brussels, we put out guidance to all our 27 member states, indicating the steps that ought to be taken to make this opening as coordinated as possible.

    And it may not surprise to hear that the fundamental things that we have in place is, first of all, to ensure that there is a significant slowing of the spread, secondly, that the hospital capacities are adequate, thirdly, that there's enough testing, enough contact tracing to ensure that, if this were to break out again, it could be very easily and very quickly contained.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This is a major challenge for the E.U. and the rest of the world, but it's really a fourth challenge for the E.U. in just the last dozen years or so.

    We have had the financial crisis, of course, which led to the Eurozone crisis. We have had the crisis of migration, of Brexit, and now COVID-19, of course.

    Are the ties that keep the E.U. together beginning to fray?

  • Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis:

    No.

    I say, on the contrary, we have been through a number of crises now, to know that it is only when we are united as European Union member states that we can overcome them.

    It hit different member states at different rates, and we all clamped down and tried to deal with it individually, and we realized very quickly this wouldn't work.

    So then we all jumped in. And we got a collective response by the E.U. that has been, frankly, remarkable, compared to the other crises you mentioned, not even close. We are providing measures to support our member states in whatever they're doing now to protect lives.

    A classic example of this is that we have collectively, as European Union countries, procured the PPE equipment that is required. We have also invested in vaccines and treatments at the European level.

    And, of course, we have economic support to the E.U. that has been unseen until up to now. More than 3.4 trillion euros, which is even more than that in dollars, has already been committed to fight the immediate effects of the crisis, to support workers, to save lives.

    And, as you said, we just decided to invest massively in a new Marshall Plan, you can call it, anything you want to, after the crisis.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, that coordinated response you describe now and today, the E.U. was criticized early on for being a little behind the curve, for not having that coordinated response, and specifically Italy, a place that was already skeptical of the E.U.

    Approval in the E.U. has dropped 20 percentage points. So, how do you deal with the challenge of Europeans, especially in the south, questioning the very notion of the E.U., at the same time that you might have to deal with, for example, a bailout of Italy in the future?

  • Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis:

    Well, you have take the right measures in place, but you also have to speak to people's hearts, not just to their minds.

    And we're doing this. The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, came out openly and apologized to Italy and Spain, in particular for the E.U. being at the beginning slow on a collective — in its collective response.

    But what you also need to do is what we have done since, which is to have that collective response. You will see now in Italy that there are other European member states that have given millions of masks, protective equipment, and everything else that Italy needs.

    Doctors are coming into Italy from other countries. You see a collective solidarity, European solidarity, now in full swing. And maybe you can — you can accuse Europe for being sometimes slow off the bat, but you cannot at this stage accuse it of being anything other than a solidarity superpower that is supporting its member states, and also trying to support other countries around the world.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And how does the U.S. and E.U. work together, when the U.S. is questioning multilateral institutions like the World Health Organization?

    President Trump, of course, has called the E.U. an economic foe. How do you work together and create a global response in an era of America first?

  • Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis:

    I think that we have a responsibility towards not just our citizens, but also citizens around the world, as we are coming collectively now to the containment of this, to support them as well.

    The European Union has put together a huge package of 20 billion euro to support other countries. The U.S. is doing similar things.

    We are funding massively the World Health Organization that is at the front lines of many poor countries around the world, who don't have the health capacity to deal with a crisis, supporting them.

    So, solidarity is not charity. The fact is that it is in our collective interest. This virus has shown that it's a world virus. So, we have to be very consistent, Americans and Europeans together, to show that solidarity doesn't stop at our borders, and that we're out there supporting the world, with — including with our values, transparency, no strings attached, making sure that growth can come, that labor rights can be respected, that the environment will not be destroyed.

    All these things are not little things. They're the challenges of the future. And we can be there together holding hands and making it happen.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Stavros Lambrinidis, E.U. ambassador to the United States, thank you very much.

  • Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis:

    Thank you.

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