Luuk Van Middelaar: “Angela Merkel accepts uncertainty, she makes it a force”

For Dutch historian and philosopher Luuk Van Middelaar, Angela Merkel is playing a key role in the crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Luuk Van Middelaar is a historian and Dutch political philosopher. He is the author of When Europe improvises (Gallimard, 2018), devoted to the two major European crises of the past decade, that of the euro and that of refugees.

How is the crisis sparked by the coronavirus different for the continent?

Ill-equipped for surprise shocks, the European Union (EU) has learned on the job to invent instruments, by improvising. With the euro crisis, it set up the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). For the migration crisis, it transformed Frontex into a border guard agency. Here, it is about increasing the capacity for action of the whole. The health crisis is the most urgent to overcome.

And to face the economic shock?

Overcoming the euro crisis took more than two years, between 2010 and 2012, during which we almost died three times. This time, currently, we do not have. Everyone needs to realize that beyond the individual situations per country, like Italy and Spain, there is a problem that concerns us all. My other reservation concerns public opinion. Under the pressure of events, each time we observe on the one hand a general movement towards more centralization, but on the other hand a reaction of resentment, resistance, a feeling of betrayal. The two previous crises have left traces, rifts, battles of narratives.

Do you think that the challenge of EU solidarity in the face of the coronavirus crisis is a moment of truth for the project European?

It’s a little too early to tell. There are two crises. Currently, all the effort, all the energy of member states should be on the health crisis and how to help each other. It may be late, the start was not easy, but now there is a common effort. Then there is the crisis that everyone must see coming: how to manage our public finances? All member states will have to absorb debts. Personally, I think it’s a good idea to mutualise their interest rate through “coronabonds.”

Italy is three weeks ahead of this crisis, it has a greater perception of it. acute than the Netherlands. There is a jet lag effect. We see the world differently from a fortnight ago. I fully understand Italy’s sense of loneliness and the need for solidarity, but we have to be careful with the argument that if the EU does nothing, it feeds the far right. In Germany and the Netherlands too, there are Eurosceptics and extremists. You must not play with fire.