On June 8, 2020 MESA10, Slovakia and CEAS, Serbia jointly organized an online Debate within the framework of the project “Promoting Democratic Values among Youth”. Student teams from seven universities, namely the Academy of Economic Studies, Chisinau, Moldova; Belgrade University, Belgrade, Serbia; Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia; Matej Bel University, Banska Bystrica, Slovakia; the International University of Sarajevo, Sarajevo, Bosna and Herzegovina; the University of Montenegro, Podgorica, Montenegro and the University of Novi Sad, Novi Sad, Serbia took part in the debate.
The following three rounds of questions framed the debate:
Question 1: Has the EU reacted swiftly or rather too slow to the current pandemic crisis? How do you perceive the EU assistance to the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries amid the COVID-19 pandemic? Will the European Union come out of the COVID-19 pandemic stronger or will we witness more divisions and fragmentations- and a weaker EU? Should we be prepared for more cooperation and solidarity in the EU or will the crisis strengthen nationalism, egoism and populism in its member states? Will the EU that you foresee for the near future be in the interest of your country or not?
Question 2: NATO is debating future measures for a possible return of the COVID-19 pandemic in the fall or in the winter of 2020. Is there any role of NATO, including broader international cooperation that you would deem helpful and useful for your country or do you believe that you will be able to cope with it on your own?
Question 3: The role of China in the spread of the virus has been debated since the beginning of the pandemic. What role did China play, were its actions oriented at international cooperation and assistance or at following its own interests? In your knowledge, did China come up with a special international initiative to curb, isolate and destroy the virus? Will the relations between the EU/US and China get better or worse after the pandemic?
Teams expressed a multitude of opinions on all the questions. Below are several examples of teams’ positions communicated during the debate. The project will continue on June 29, 2020 with the presentation of teams’ recommendations on EU policy and transatlantic security.
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“The European Union reacted rather quickly than slow. The money that the European Union threw on the countries of the Eastern Partnership project, also delivered to the Republic of Moldova is substantial and is appreciated. We think the EU will be stronger and countries will unite to overcome the pandemic and the economic crisis which will follow.”
“We think that the EU reacted too slowly and that created a big healthcare crisis, especially in Italy and Spain, they felt neglected by the Europe. Solidarity in the Union was not strong and people felt that there was more to be done. China grabbed the opportunity to come in as a savior and as the first country to help Serbia. The help from China was much appreciated while the help from the Union was neglected. As Carl Bildt wrote on Twitter, when China sends help to Serbia, Serbia reacts with a huge fanfare, but when the EU sends really necessary aid, Serbia has no response”
“If the second wave of COVID happens, Serbia will ask other partners—China, Russia, but not NATO.”
“The Union could not do anything more because in the area of public policy it is week, the Union can only support and coordinate actions of each member states. We need to start to debate about the competence and powers of the institutions as the current ones are not sufficiently protecting its citizens. We need more solidarity in the future”
“The EU showed that it did not forget the region of Western Balkans during this pandemic, however, national selfishness was visible everywhere.”
“NATO was not in the front line, but it supported coordination and individual member states to combat the situation, provided logistical and medical support. NATO supported civilian efforts to fight the crisis and provided security. Any assistance is welcomed in case of crisis.”
“NATO members can expect help from this organization, but we are not a member. We can expect more help from individual governments rather than NATO.”
“We have a huge benefit of assistance of NATO. Let´s be honest, the major forces that can help us in the case of second wave is EU and NATO. We are kind of united in case of the crisis. In the case of return of COVID19 we would benefit from NATO´s help.”
“Short response can be done by individual states, but longer response needs international coordination with which NATO can help. NATO member states share information and best practices is only helping the situation”
“We have gained more trust in NATO and only confirmed that we want to join the NATO. Trust in NATO has been established during this crisis”
“China has a fault in spreading the coronavirus. In December they knew that this virus can bursts, but they denied it to the WHO and other institutions, silenced doctors, refused to provide a sample, and so on. On the other hand, neither the EU nor the US took measures to prevent the virus from spreading in January, they reacted only after the outbreak in Italy.”
“China followed its interests, in the past few months most of the countries followed their interests and protected its citizens. Since the virus spread from China, so she was expected to provide the biggest humanitarian help, so she did. Trump claiming that the virus was created in a laboratory will not help the relationship. Maybe it is an opportunity for China to consolidate its relationships in Europe.”
“When the EU countries banned to export medical support, China quickly sent help. Now we can ask if it was only to gain a reputation of a global partner or there is other goal. It was very important to China to send medical supplies, as Trump at that time already accused China of spreading the virus on purpose. China needed to limit the accusations.”
“I think the US-China relations will remain the same, they have good economic ties. The social dimension is different, some Americans think that Chinese people are responsible. From the political point of view, I think in the future the situation will improve and they will remain partners.”
“China withheld the information, similarly as with the Chernobyl disaster, although not as bad. They did not do much to prevent the spreading, a lot of tourists traveled, a lot of trade went in and out.”
“China was really fighting against the virus because in case of losing, their economy would bleed out. Of course, it also used the opportunity to build soft power. China is a different regime, they do things differently. Withholding information is very normal for them, there is a great censorship. The facemasks China sent were really bad quality, China makes the most fakes in the world and in the EU we have different quality standards.”
“China is willing to invest to countries in Africa, in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, etc. When China finishes the One Belt One Road project, it will not need the US market. I think European-Chinese relations will be good, the US-China relations will be bad.”
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