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The European Union still refuses to confront the coronavirus crisis

ONE measure of the stability of the capitalist system is the profitability of its banks. This is so important a priority for our ruling class that it rescued them with unimaginable mountains of cash — our cash — in the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis.

Even so banks remains a weak link. For banks across the Eurozone, according to figures from the European Central Bank, the average return on equity fell over the past year from 6.2 per cent to 5.2 per cent. 

In the dominant EU economic power German banks had a return of 0.08 per cent. 

Banks are so central to the maintenance of economic stability that the case for firm supervision is barely contested in places where the public might notice. In fact in more select gatherings of the rich and entitled such circumspection is missing, while among the public as a whole the case for public ownership and control of the banks finds a ready audience.

The divisions between the stricken southern members of the EU and the main beneficiaries of the way the eurozone is structured — those northern states grouped around Germany — have widened as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Premier Mark Rutte stalled on an EU-wide programme to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

And this after the European Parliament's President — the Italian David Sassoli — was excluded by the select pair from talks on the EU response to the coronavirus crisis.

In a statement the European Council said: “The Covid-19 pandemic constitutes an unprecedented challenge for Europe and the whole world.

“It requires urgent, decisive, and comprehensive action at the EU, national, regional and local levels. We will do everything that is necessary to protect our citizens and overcome the crisis, while preserving our European values and way of life.”

They then kicked the whole issue into the long grass.

One barely suppressed undercurrent has it that the change in the leadership of the Labour Party offers a new opportunity to reverse the Brexit mandate or at least place Britain’s separation from the EU into cold storage. 

A good part of the support for Britain remaining in the EU came from — still comes from — well-intentioned people who project their own hopes and dreams for a continent of co-operation, with nations united in scientific endeavour, onto the less seductive reality that is the neoliberal alliance.

The news that the EU’s top scientist, the president of the European Research Council, has chucked in his job right at the start of his four-year term of office should give those starry-eyed at the sight of the starry blue flag second thoughts.

Professor Mauro Ferrari resigned after the EU turned down his proposal to establish a large-scale scientific programme to fight Covid-19.

“I have been extremely disappointed by the European response to Covid-19,” he said. “I arrived at the ERC a fervent supporter of the EU [but] the Covid-19 crisis completely changed my views, though the ideals of international collaboration I continue to support with enthusiasm.”

In a telling phrase Professor Ferrari said: “The proposal was passed on to different layers of the European Commission administration, where I believe it disintegrated upon impact.”

It is clear that the coronavirus emergency is best tackled by international co-operation and solidarity. While President Trump now threatens to withdraw funding from the World Health Organisation, accusing it of a China bias. 

The WHO set the pace with firm advice and in popularising best practice from countries that have made significant progress in tackling the crisis. China and Cuba have set the pace in rendering real aid to stricken nations while the EU has failed the test.

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