The coronavirus knows no borders. It has now spread almost everywhere in the world, and certainly all throughout Europe. It is a global emergency that would require a global response. We can therefore draw two lessons from it, which force us to reflect on our future.
The first lesson concerns our frailty, and, at the same time, our total interdependence. Despite our technological achievements, the growth of our wealth and the invention of increasingly deadly weapons, we are still—all of us, simply as human beings—exposed to disasters, some caused by our own irresponsible environmental damage, while others, such as the current epidemic, are simply natural disasters.
But there is one crucial difference, compared to all the tragedies of the past: the global nature of today’s disasters, which are affecting the whole world, the whole of humanity, without discriminating according to nationality, culture, language, religion, or even economic and political conditions.
Unfortunately, the result of this planetary pandemic is a dramatic confirmation of the need and urgency to achieve a planetary constitutionalism, such as the one proposed and promoted by the Costituente Terra (Constituent Earth) school that we inaugurated in Rome on Feb. 21.
The second lesson concerns the need for effective—and, above all, consistent—measures to be taken in the face of emergencies of this kind, in order to avoid that the variety of measures adopted, in many cases completely inadequate, would end up favoring contagion and multiplying the damage suffered by everyone.
Indeed, each country is now taking different measures, sometimes entirely insufficient, such as those in the United States and the UK, whose governments have been downplaying the danger so as not to damage their economies. Even in Europe, the 27 member states of the EU are moving out of step, each adopting different strategies: from the strict measures of Italy and Spain to the more moderate measures of France and Germany—even though, at least as far as Europe is concerned, a common management of the epidemic is actually required by the EU Treaties.
Article 168 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, dedicated to public health, after stating that “a high level of human health protection shall be ensured in the definition and implementation of all Union policies and activities,” states that “Member States shall, in liaison with the Commission, coordinate among themselves their policies and programmes,” and that “The European Parliament and the Council … may also adopt incentive measures designed to protect and improve human health and in particular to combat the major cross-border health scourges.”
Furthermore, Article 222, entitled “Solidarity Clause,” says that “the Union and its Member States shall act jointly in a spirit of solidarity if a Member State is the object of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural or man-made disaster.”
How is it possible that the European Union is only able to impose sacrifices and austerity policies on member states for the benefit of balanced budgets, and not also health measures that would safeguard the lives of its citizens?
The European Commission has among its members a Commissioner for Health, another for Social Rights, another for Cohesion and Reforms, and even a Commissioner for Crisis Management. What are all these officials waiting for—why are they not taking charge of this emergency and promoting uniform and effective measures to tackle it throughout Europe, with binding directives?
More than anything, the global nature of this epidemic confirms the need—already evident in terms of the damage to the environment, but made even more visible and urgent by the terrible daily toll of deaths and infections—to create a Constitution for the Earth that would provide guarantees and institutions that would be up to the global challenges and able to protect the lives of everyone.
A World Health Organization already exists. However, it does not even have the means and institutional apparatus necessary to offer poor countries the 460 life-saving drugs that, as the WHO itself established 40 years ago, should be accessible to all, and the lack of which causes 8 million deaths every year. Today, the global epidemic is affecting everyone equally, without distinction between rich and poor.
It should therefore provide us with the opportunity to make the WHO into an institution offering real guarantees at the global level, endowed with the powers and economic means necessary to face the crisis with rational and adequate measures, not conditioned by contingent political or economic interests, but aimed at safeguarding the lives of all human beings just because they are human.
All the conditions are present today for such a leap in civilization as the implementation of a global constitutionalism and a planetary public sphere: not only the institutional preocnditions, but also the social and cultural ones. Among the effects of this epidemic, there is also a reassessment of the role of the public sphere in the common understanding, a reaffirmation of the primacy of the state over the local regions in terms of public health, and, above all, the development—after years of hatred, racism and sectarianism—of an extraordinary and unexpected sense of solidarity between people and between peoples.
The latter is manifesting itself in the aid coming from China, in the shared songs and the expressions of affection and gratitude sent from balconies to doctors and nurses—to put it simply, in the perception that we are one single people of the Earth, united by the shared human condition in which we all live.
Perhaps a general awareness of our common destiny might finally arise out of this tragedy—an awareness that would demand a common system of guarantees of our rights and of our peaceful and united coexistence.
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