“This changes everything.” When confronted with a once-in-a-century, in fact unprecedented event, humankind’s initial reaction is usually to assume that nothing will be the same again, including international politics.
And there’s no doubt that the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and the unprecedented lockdown of much of the world will be severe. The world will witness a global recession at least as deep as the financial crisis of 2008, possibly even worse than the Great Depression of 1929. When addressing the German public in March, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the challenge was the country’s biggest since the end of World War II.
European countries—and hardest-hit Italy and Spain in particular—will need massive help to get their economies back on track. While vast amounts of money have been promised already by the European Commission and individual member states—€1 trillion plus and counting—, there is disunity regarding how precisely to finance a “European Recovery Fund,” whether the help should come in the shape of loans or grants, and whether “coronabonds,” or “eurobonds” in general, are the way forward.
The German government, while signaling willingness to help more, keeps saying nein to the idea of shared liability—so not quiet everything is changed, after all. (Indeed, there is some reason to suspect that Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, is right in arguing that the pandemic “will accelerate history rather than changing it.”)
In this issue, our contributors try to sketch out ways ahead. DGAP director Daniela Schwarzer warns that Europe needs to emerge strengthened from the crisis, and that Germany, taking over the EU presidency on July 1, has to play a special role in this: “Berlin cannot limit itself to the role of honest broker.” Daniel Twining and Jan Surotchak of the International Republican Institute call on the United States and Europe to defend democracy—and Western leadership— against the authoritarian advances of China and Russia (did US President Donald Trump get the memo, though?). British journalist David Goodhart argues for seizing this opportunity to retreat from hyper-globalization, and US sociologist Richard Sennett predicts that the crisis may well mark the end of the “cities of towers.”
Some change at least, it seems, is inevitable.