Pietro De Matteis is an advisor on public diplomacy at the European External Action Service, the EU diplomatic corps.
He works on developing new approaches to build trust and mutual understanding with citizens worldwide and is the founder of the FB Group #EUSolidarityNOW
He believes that building Europe starts from the local level he is also an elected city councillor in Brussels (Saint Gilles) and he is active in several civil society organisations.
MICHEL CAILLOUËT: Why did you take the initiative to start the FB "EUsolidarity now" group? Another group on pro-European subjects? Is it really useful?
PIETRO DE MATTEIS:
Over the past few weeks, Europe and the world have been confronted with an unprecedented health crisis, which is another testing case for the EU and its ability to protect its citizens. Europeans will need to show unity and solidarity in order to grow stronger out of this pandemic, as there cannot be any union without solidarity.
As the pandemic started, I realised that European cooperation struggled to take off, as individual Member States started taking uncoordinated measures, not always highlighting the level of solidarity that we would have wanted to see. Soon, however, I realised that the situation was more complex and that this fight would have not been only against the Coronavirus.
There was an incredible amount of disinformation around EU's response to COVID-19 and an over-exposure of support coming from third countries, often accompanied by insidious anti-European narratives. At the same time, while the European Commission started developing more a ambitious European response to the crisis, some Member States remained reluctant to follow suit.
To tackle these issues I felt that that we needed a grassroots mobilisation capable of pushing heads of state and governments to show more solidarity in the way they are address the current health situation but also to provide factual information on EU's response to the crisis and, most importantly, concrete examples of solidarity across European countries and people.
This is why I started the Facebook group: #EUsolidarityNow.
MC Why do European citizens have the feeling that Europe has done too little to fight the Cofid19 pandemic?
I believe that has been a lack of information about EU's response to COVID-19 and key measures took a while to be agreed by Member States.
Also, there have been some very visible information operations organised by third countries aimed at portraying their support as being more rapid and effective than the one provided by the EU and its Member States.
However, as it is now clear also by looking at the information "crowd-sourced" by our members, there are hundreds of concrete examples of solidarity in action involving both the EU Member States and EU citizens.
In addition, the measures proposed by the EU institutions are now clearer, which will certainly help.
MC: What should be done to improve the EU's performance of the EU ?
PM: I am not an expert in the field, but we have all observed that much more ex-ante coordination is necessary with regards to what measures need to be put in place across the European Union to address similar crises.
The EU should probably have a greater competence to deal with these matters and certainly beyond the mere ex-post coordination of Member States initiatives.
For instance, this could include the harmonisation of health and safety protocols related to the closure of borders and of economic activities, the creation of common EU stocks of health-related equipment that could be mobilised when/where needed or further guidance with regards to the cross-regional cooperation among European hospitals in times of health crisis.
Finally, the creation of dedicated Eurobonds (or as some call them now "coronabond") could allow raising the necessary funds not only to deal with a particular crisis in a solidary manner, but also to invest after the end of the crisis to support economic recovery.
MC: You have always campaigned for European federalism. Is this still on the agenda? If federalism is the solution, how could this goal be achieved?
PM: Yes, of course! While respecting the autonomy of European countries and regions and the principle of subsidiarity - according to which the decisions need to be taken at the level that is as close as possible to the citizens - a federal Europe would certainly be better placed to act in times of crisis.
In fact, the sometimes slow answer of the European Union is due to the fact that EU Member States which meet in the European Council do not agree on the way forward, often due short-term electoral interests.
I believe that over the past decades we may have forgotten that the European project was started out of solidarity. The Schuman Declaration of 9 May 1950 clearly says so: "Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity."
I hope that this crisis will allow us to rediscover the importance of solidarity in our Union.
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