Charles Michel: “If Europe fails in the face of the pandemic, we will give the extremists a political advantage”

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Brussels launches a common test, tracing and quarantine strategy to regain the confidence of public opinion and avoid diverse responses in each country

The European Commission approved this Wednesday another batch of measures, in particular on the homologation of coronavirus tests, to coordinate the response of the 27 countries of the Union to the second wave of the covid-19 pandemic, much faster and more virulent than planned before summer by Brussels. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, considers it essential that the community partners overcome the new lash with “a common strategy of rapid tests, tracing and vaccination”. Michel hopes to weave that consensus in a series of summits to be held, starting this Thursday, by videoconference over the next few weeks. On the eve of the meeting, Michel warns, during an interview with EL PAÍS and other European media, that the political bill for a failure in the face of the pandemic would be very high and would add to the human drama of tens of thousands of deaths and the devastating economic impact caused by the virus.

Question. A few hours from the virtual meeting of European leaders, in what situation is Europe?

Answer. You have to tell the truth openly. The situation in Europe is serious, terrible. We must act urgently. States are doing everything necessary to face this crisis, but we must be more efficient in terms of testing, tracing, and containment measures. Movement restrictions, which are being reintroduced in many countries, come at a huge political, social, economic, psychological and perhaps even democratic cost.

P. Unlike the first wave, when the population accepted the restrictive measures with little question, we now see a growing number of riots and protests.

R. We face a very complex and very difficult situation. And it is true that there is social reaction. The only way to avoid those restrictions in the coming months is to be very efficient in testing and tracking. Rapid test reliability has improved in recent weeks but mutual recognition of tests between countries should be considered to facilitate travel across Europe. Hence, efficiency is crucial and demonstrating that we develop a strategy that works. Show that we stop the spread of the virus and its negative consequences for the economy and society. The social consequences already worried us before the summer and that is why the important agreement of July faced the crisis and prepared the recovery.

P. Part of the public opinion does not seem to perceive this European response and is puzzled by the diversity of responses at the national or even regional level. Is the breeding ground for populists being created?

R. It is an important issue, yes. In the European Council of [15 y 16] In October the leaders already raised the need for a European communication strategy to give a common message to citizens about the risks derived from this crisis. The idea must be that we are all in the same boat and we must take it seriously. We are facing a second wave of infections, with great pressure on our hospitals and our health systems and that is why it is very important to manage communication and always tell the truth. Without a strategy of testing, tracking and vaccines, restrictive measures will return with serious economic, social, psychological and perhaps democratic consequences. Why? Because extremist political parties will be able to take advantage of the risk of failure to push forward their undemocratic dialectic against European values. We must protect European values ​​and show that Europe is a powerful democracy made up of 27 democracies that are capable of dealing with the crisis and being efficient.

P. What steps will be taken at the European summit on Thursday?

R. The European Council must give a political impetus to overcome the obstacles that prevent an effective strategy. It is a matter of days: there must be clear progress in the coming days to keep Europe’s situation under control.

P. What obstacles are you referring to?

R. We need a clear signal from the Heads of State and Government in favor of a common approach because each country has its own reality, its own processes, its consultation rules, its experts and different competences at the national and regional level. That makes it very difficult to agree on a timetable and a strategy. The political momentum of the European Council must overcome that obstacle and develop a more efficient strategy for testing and tracing.

P. What do you propose in relation to rapid tests? Should there be joint purchases?

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