The only way out of this is together

We cannot retreat to the comfort combination of populism, Eurosceptism and pseudo-nationalism so favoured by Labour. That will not solve anything – we are all in this together and the only way out of this is together

“This virus knows no borders but it does know heroes” – was how I started my contribution to a debate we had with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel.

Our doctors, nurses, paramedics, law enforcement, pharmacists, scientists, cleaners, delivery drivers, shelf stackers – are the global face of resilience in the toughest of circumstances.

The concept of the European Union is based on the certainty of solidarity between member states. Never before in the history of our Union has such solidarity been needed. And never before has it been tested in such a manner.

It is essential that Europe responds and does whatever it takes. It has come in for some criticism, some of it justified and some of it fuelled by politicians who find an easy scapegoat in popular Brussels-bashing.

This pandemic should not expose Europe’s weaknesses but should show off our strengths.

It is true that member states and EU institutions were slower than they should have been – particularly with the situation in Italy – but the face of Europe did show in the patients from Bergamo being hospitalised in Bavaria; Romanian doctors heading to Italy; equipment from Lithuania being sent to Spain; masks from France and Austria being flown to Italy; Maltese and Italian designers and couture creators sewing surgical masks for the most vulnerable.

These are the concrete examples of solidarity that people want to see.

Having EU joint procurement procedures meant that Malta and Gozo could still get needed equipment like ventilators without having to compete on tenders with economies far larger than our own.

Now the challenge is to extend that to the joint procurement of a vaccine when this becomes available – this must now be a point on which the Prime Minister should insist upon with his peers.

Tangible European action crucially also extended to financial support to Member States. The arguments over whether such support should emanate from Eurobonds, coronabonds, credit facilities or the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework, almost overshadowed the more than half-a trillion in recovery funds that were allocated.

We’ve agreed on rescue packages, low interest loans, and grants, worth €540 billion – made available to member states to deal with the immediate impact on people’s businesses and jobs. It meant citizens, including so many in Malta and Gozo, are able to benefit from some form of State aid. The EU also relaxed its rules to ensure that funds could be pumped into critical industries and people’s livelihoods are protected as much as possible.

Now the challenge is to make sure the funds are able to be used by people and businesses who need them the most, without unnecessary bureaucracy or red tape.

In the words Germany’s President Steinmeier, this is not war – this is a test of our humanity. And of our spirit – there are still far too many people who slip through the cracks and who find nowhere to turn to. We must address them too, be flexible and continue to adapt.

Tied to our response to COVID-19 is how we deal with the looming humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. Member states and the EU must do better.

We are seeing increased numbers of boats fleeing Libya only to remain stuck out at sea – a coherent European approach is urgent. Meaningful solidarity is crucial. Lives must be saved, and we cannot leave frontline member states like Italy, Greece and Malta alone.   

But government needs to walk the talk too. We could have saved lives – there were options that allowed people to be saved, fed, cared for and quarantined and that is what we needed to do.

In the European Parliament I am proud that our delegation’s position has always been consistent – save lives and have an all-encompassing migration policy – fair with those in need of protection, firm with those who do not and strong with those abusing of the vulnerable.

Labour’s policy remains anyone’s guess. On a section of the most important resolution passed by the Parliament this year, four of Labour’s MEPs voted in three different ways. There was no element of schadenfreude in watching them point fingers at each other and try to rip each other to shreds after the vote – on an issue as crucial as this, we needed all MEPs together. Labour MEP’s internal drama, coupled with Robert Abela’s crippling insecurity, damages our negotiating position when we need it to be at its strongest.

We cannot retreat to the comfort combination of populism, Eurosceptism and pseudo-nationalism so favoured by Labour. That will not solve anything – we are all in this together and the only way out of this is together.