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April 20, 2020

Germany During the Covid-19 Crisis

Time to Move Beyond Damage Control

The Covid-19 crisis has shown how difficult European cooperation can be, especially in policy areas where the EU has only a legal competence to support its member states. The European Policy Institutes Network (EPIN) asked experts to describe how EU cooperation was perceived in their national contexts. DGAP’s Julian Rappold answered the call with this text, which assesses Germany’s view of the EU’s crisis response to tackling Covid-19.

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Photo shows Covid-19 patients arriving in Hamburg from Bergamo on March 29, 2020
Covid-19 patients from Bergamo, Italy, arrive in Hamburg, Germany, on March 29, 2020
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Germany initially turned inward when the number of infections grew rapidly in early March 2020. Finding a coordinated domestic response to the health crisis was enough of a challenge, given the country’s highly devolved system of governance. Berlin realized the far-reaching implications of Covid-19 for the cohesion of the EU rather slowly and is now trying to shift gears. 

Like certain other member states, Berlin went ahead unilaterally with its first crisis response: it introduced its own emergency measures and temporarily closed the borders with some of its neighbours without coordinating at the European level.

Yet, in the eyes of some European partners and the European Commission, Germany went too far when it started to ban the export of face masks and other protective equipment. Europe’s South in particular was painfully reminded of past crises, which exposed Berlin to accusations of a lack of solidarity. This perception was reinforced when China returned the favour of European support by sending face masks to Italy.

Since then, Berlin has tried to control the damage: it reversed its initial decision on exports of medical equipment and invested much more to support European partners in tackling the health crisis, i.e. sending medical equipment and ventilators, accepting Covid-19 patients from neighboring countries, and evacuating thousands of EU-citizens from abroad. 

Yet this is the minimum of solidarity Germany can show. Unprecedented efforts are called for to cope with all the implications of Covid-19. Berlin acknowledged that the pace of European coordination and action had been slow at first. With the coordination of the Covid-19 crisis management now mainly in the hands of the European Council, and with the EU presidency just around the corner, Germany has an even greater responsibility to navigate the EU safely through this unprecedented crisis.

Bibliographic data

Originally published on the website of the European Policy Institutes Network (EPIN) as part of a collection of texts from 19 institutes in 15 different countries, which form a representative cross-section of EU member states (plus Iceland): https://epin.org/epin-publications/

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