Geopolitics

COVID-19 Exposes Just How Weak The European Union Really Is

Delays in vaccination, bureaucracy and a lack of solidarity between member states are putting new strains on the already fragile Union.

Boardwalk scene in La Panne, Belgium
Boardwalk scene in La Panne, Belgium
Dominique Moisi

-Analysis-

COVID-19 will eventually be defeated. But before it goes down, it could take a collateral victim with it: the European project.

The virus is attacking the European Union in two ways: by exposing the lack of solidarity between its members, on the one hand, and on the other by highlighting its cumbersome, if not inadequate, red tape.

In retrospect, it would have been less expensive for the EU to spend a little more to get the vaccines on time, rather than to take the health, economic and political risk of finding itself, even temporarily, "disarmed" against the virus.

Faced with "the Union's slowness," Denmark and Austria are turning to Israel to produce vaccines together. The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary are ordering large quantities of Russian and Chinese vaccines, even though they don't yet have EU authorization. And many other European countries, including Germany, say they are ready to resort to the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V — undoubtedly a victory for Moscow in terms of public image.

Before the pandemic, the EU was said to be threatened by the viruses of terrorism and far-right populism. But with the health crisis, the primary threat facing the Union right now may be its own "blunders."

When it comes to defense and security, the EU could justify its lack of cohesive action based on the fact that the so-called "blood tax" can't be delegated. Each nation alone is solely responsible for deciding whether or not to send its soldiers to fight, and potentially die, on external fronts. Now, though, the world is at war against COVID-19. As such, we're dangerously moving from security in the traditional sense of the word to health security.

The words of Rudyard Kipling come to mind: "He travels the fastest who travels alone." Britain's vaccine rollout would seem to be a case in point, albeit after a catastrophic initial response to the pandemic. Either way, the post-Brexit British are now in a position to emphasize the contrast between their performance and that of the EU countries.

We used to say that the nation state was too small for big problems and too big for small problems. But what if that criticism applied today to the EU itself?

In Kiev, in 2013, headier times in Europe's recent past — Photo: Ivan Bandura

Is the Union not too small to face the challenge of the pandemic, which involves global cooperation between scientists worldwide? Is it not too rigid, bureaucratic and cumbersome in terms of crisis management? It doesn't help that even on an individual level, member state governments are struggling to define and implement policies to control the virus. Could it be that, because of the very nature of the pandemic, EU-style regionalism is the most at risk?

It is a legitimate question, but the answer is far from obvious, because the problem goes far beyond the EU itself.

Faced with the scale of the pandemic, scientists (China's ambiguity and other exceptions aside) have been forced to unite and share information very quickly in an increasingly global and interdependent universe. It was of course not difficult for them, it was in their DNA. But their success is no less exceptional. They worked miracles.

In contrast, politicians have chosen the opposite path, sometimes yielding to the temptation of "vaccine nationalism." Citizens are the ones who are paying the price. In the context of COVID-19, as Yuval Noah Harari writes in the Financial Times, it is as if there was a scientific truth based on reason — that we can only escape together; and a political and emotional truth — that you can only escape on your own, or more precisely, by defining alone the most appropriate response to effectively fight the virus.

This is arguably the most difficult moment since the start of the European project.

We must hope that access to vaccines will no longer be a problem in the coming weeks or months. If not, European citizens — faced with an existential question, literally — will feel abandoned, if not betrayed by the EU.

This is arguably the most difficult moment since the start of the European project, a time when demand for protection in the face of the pandemic is the greatest. Confronted with the virus, citizens looking toward Brussels need embodiment and confidence.

And yet, rather than reassurances, they have the impression (true or false) that the EU's regional leaders, with a few exceptions, are even weaker than most of their individual national leaders. By not systematically choosing "the best" for Europe, so as not to overshadow national leaders, the Union is "unraveling."

On a purely symbolic level, the movement has actually gone in the opposite direction. Former European Central Bank head Mario Draghi, for example, made a show of saying he's "once again Italian" — to serve his country. In doing so, he gave himself greater credibility and legitimacy.

The rift between the Union and its citizens will continue to deepen if Europe is perceived as unable to provide quick, clear and coherent responses to the concerns of its peoples. The Union — no more than its member states — cannot save itself on its own.

It must be repeated again and again: International cooperation is not a sign of altruistic naivety. It is the key to safeguarding national interests. No one will be saved until everyone benefits from the same protection against coronavirus variants that will, by their very nature, keep on mutating.

Europe cannot save itself on its own. But it can, by its own devices, do much to self-destruct — with the help of its member states, of course. And this is exactly what will happen if the EU doesn't go far enough to tackle the two challenges, in terms of identity and efficiency, it is facing.

Will COVID-19 thus deal the final blow to the European Union? The question, alas, is worth asking.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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