Faced with the very real and tangible threat of the coronavirus, European states are giving up any pretense to solidarity. In many ways, it is every nation for itself.
As Hungarians cast their vote in a referendum in 2003 whether to join the European Union, the main argument for it was the exciting prospect of borderless travel, in which anyone could zip Warsaw to Marseilles uninterrupted—simply walking, driving past or otherwise ignoring smiling border guards.
During the journey, citizens could also enjoy stopovers to munch tasty sandwiches bought with an ever-stable euro.
But this is no longer that ideal world, this is the Europe of the year 2020, where harsh realities are reasserting themselves.
The coronavirus is spreading in northern Italy, feared nearly as much as the plague was back in previous centuries, with the only difference that in the age of the internet everyone can publicly voice their fears.
Major roads in the affected Italian provinces are closed – there is no full-on quarantine yet, but it may still be instituted.
Meanwhile, Austria is pondering whether to halt rail traffic with Italy, with the country temporarily halting rail traffic Sunday evening when two Italians were reported sick while traveling into the country.
“No, thank you,” the Austrians are saying, thinking it might just be better if the Italians kept the disease on their side of the border. It may even be a positive development that Britain has already left the EU, as it already has its own infected coronavirus patients, and the honest truth is that it’s better if those patients stay in Britain.
The very moment trouble rears its head, European solidarity evaporates, with every nation hoping that the other can deal with the outbreak on its own.
Five years ago, when millions pf people invaded the European continent, anyone raising security—or indeed, public health concerns—was instantly labeled racist.
Now, however, the virus has a name, it is coming from China and has now spread to Italy. This is no longer hate speech, it is simply reality. People, when faced with a legitimate threat like coronavirus, prompted the world’s nations to react at a visceral level and seal the borders that only yesterday have been declared non-existent.
This is not an ideal world, but one whose ugly realities force nations to reinstate borders carved in stone over many generations.
Title image: People wearing face masks walk past the Milan Cathedral on February 23. (AP/Luca Bruno)