All but the most hardened Remainer will admit that the EU’s vaccine rollout has been poor. Up against the UK’s handling of the same feat — and in the face of the European Union’s aggressive response to Britain’s success — many are declaring Brexit a triumph. But the EU’s vaccine debacle demonstrates something more profound and worthy of deeper examination — the continuing importance of the nation state.
As Europe’s vaccine rollout has demonstrated, nation state can often do things faster and better in a crisis than a multi-national entity like the EU Commission. Some will say this proves the nation state should be the highest form of governance, and that multi-national entities are doomed to fail. Except, I think the European Union will actually learn from this crisis, which is where things get interesting.
There is a chance that the EU could retreat from federalism. European leaders may start to realise that the movement to centralise as much as possible — pulling power away from the national capitals and into Brussels and Strasbourg — is not always the answer. The nation state appears poised to re-assert itself across the continent.
The speed at which different countries will need to come out of Covid restrictions, coupled with the differing requirements of each nation state over the next five years, may set the federalist train into reverse. There is a chance that Germany’s courts may put the brakes on the €750 billion (£640 billion) EU recovery fund, halting Brussels’s attempts to co-ordinate the bloc’s post-pandemic stimulus.
This may sound good to pro-Brexiteers, but a move away from federalism wouldn’t mean the EU splitting apart — the importance of the single market, the customs union, and the money Eurosceptic Eastern European states get from the arrangement make that extremely unlikely.