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Coronavirus lockdown exit strategy: borders, nations and the cohesion conundrum

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Virus Outbreak Belgium Europe   -   Copyright  John Thys/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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From Rome to Paris and Berlin - Europe has been in lockdown, as millions across the continent have been largely confined to their homes.

But as the virus rates slow and the economic bill mounts up, everyone is trying to think of a way out.

The European Commission has presented its exit plan, an attempt, essentially, to co-ordinate an EU wide response.

European leaders have been striving to get member states to work together and coordinate responses to the pandemic, something which in the early days of the outbreak appeared to be lacking.
But for some the EU's is at least partly to blame. According to Antoni Plasencia, the director of the Institute for Global Health, the bloc was too slow to respond which unfortunately led to an 'every country for itself approach' but he still welcomed the commision's new plan.

"The recent document provides key building blocks, an evidence based, shared approach to some of the challenges of easing the lockdown measures and at the same time provides space to adapt to the specificities, the epidemiologic and health system specificities of each country. Yes, this is a good step forward but we shouldn't lose the view that until now the European leadership has been almost invisible", Plasencia told Euronews Now.

Every country for itself?

This plan comes after some countries have already announced their own methods for exiting the lockdown. The slowing rate of infection and the drop in the number of deaths have led them to start easing restrictions but these promising signs have led the UK and France to extend their lockdowns as Katy Dartford reports.

So how well is Brussels dealing with its biggest test?

“This is a question of life and death, life and death is still very much in the hands of the member states and this is about politicians, heads of states and heads of government fighting for actually that they can deal with a problem that is hitting every single citizen in their country," explains Fabrice Pothier, Chief Strategy Officer at political consultancy, Rasmussen Global.

So while health remains in the hands of member states, Alberto Alemanno, Jean Monnet Professor in EU Law at HEC Paris argues that leaders should be listening more to Brussels.

“By now it is pretty clear that COVID has become a European story because different national responses are having major cross-border affects on other countries. So the effectiveness of the COVID national responses basically is weaken the lack of a European coordination.”

Arguments abound over whether the European Commission has been active enough, and how much blame to lay at national level.

“At the end of the day, we could see that such a Commission proved to be very weak, the overall leadership, using the convening power the Commission has under the treaty, under this emergency mechanism was not really used fully," says Alemanno.

But the modus operandi of the EU appears to be responding and evolving with each new crisis.

“I think it’s funny, the cyclicality, going through the same motions roughly ever five years, there is a crisis, everyone does their own thing, there is a lot of acrimony, finger pointing, exchange of blame, things kind of fall apart but at the last minute, things don’t fall apart, the commission glues it all back together and we stumble onto the next thing.”

How well Europe recovers from the pandemic will be the true test of cooperating across borders, and proving that the EU is more than a trading bloc.