US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — The COVID-19 pandemic did more damage to Italy than any other nation. The Italians faced the most dramatic crisis since World War II, with the northern region of Lombardy in a particularly difficult situation. But, despite all his talk about “global citizenship” and solidarity, the European Union in fact betrayed Italians. And this despite the fact that communist China, the most cunning and largest beneficiary of globalization, this China is ready to fill the empty space left by the European Union. Beijing is ready to help Italy put out the fire that launched its own, Chinese virus.
Coronavirus first appeared in Italy on January 31, when two Chinese tourists from Hubei Province were tested positive for coronavirus in Rome. This happened eight days after they landed at the Milan airport in Lombardy. Both Chinese were then immediately isolated and quarantined at the Roman hospital of Spallanzani.
Then it seemed that the situation was under control – and this illusion persisted until February 21. On that day, Italy confirmed 16 new cases of coronavirus, of which 14 in Lombardy and 2 in the Veneto region. A “null patient” has now been identified – a 38-year-old Italian from the town of Codogno near Milan: he had acute respiratory symptoms. After that, despite Italy’s attempts to “lock up” the virus, isolating the inhabitants of the town of Codogno, the infection of the coronavirus spread with might and main.
EU denies assistance
In just a few days, Italy got the worst infection statistics in Europe, and Lombardy became the epicenter of the pandemic. To prevent the spread of infections to the rest of Italy, the government declared a lockdown in the entire region of Lombardy and other areas in northern Italy. Quarantined were 17 million people. A few days later, as the situation worsened, the whole of Italy was declared the orange zone. All “unnecessary” economic activity was discontinued. The movement of citizens was limited to visits to grocery stores and pharmacies, as well as such work, which the Italian state considered “vital.”
The economic consequences of such a complete lockdown immediately became apparent as simply terrible. Naturally, Italy asked the EU to show great flexibility regarding Italy and its obligations. The Italians made a request to the EU for emergency measures to help Italian citizens and businesses from the European Union. At that moment, the crisis was hardly felt in the main economic locomotives of Europe – France and Germany.
The answer from the EU turned out to be slow and ineffective, as a result, Italians began to feel like the EU simply left them to their fate. Meanwhile, Italy is the initial signatory to the Rome Treaty, which founded the European Community, while Italy is the founding member of the EU and the third largest economy in the Eurozone.
On March 12, the President of the European Central Bank (ECB), Mrs. Christine Lagarde, passed the point of no return – she gave many the expected speech about the measures that the ECB intends to take to deal with the consequences of coronavirus. Lagarde decided not to cut interest rates, opposing the “help at all costs” policy proposed by former ECB President Mario Draghi.
For Italians, such an indifference of the ECB to their fate was tantamount to betrayal. The consequences of Lagarde’s speech were immediate – and disastrous for the capitalization of Italian enterprises. Even EU-supporting President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, made a strict speech on this subject, demanding that the EU “change its course of action” in the “common interests” of Europe.
Greek debt threat
The EU really changed its position on the crisis around COVID-19, but only after this crisis spread to France and Germany. At this moment, coronavirus became not only an Italian problem, but also a problem of these two countries. But by that time, the damage done by Italians to European institutions was already incorrigible. Having no other options for overcoming the crisis, the Italian government is considering turning to European funds under the program “Saving States.” As part of this program, Italy asked the EU to “buy out” it from the current situation, allocating 500 billion euros under the “European Stabilization Mechanism”. This was a risky step on the part of Rome – because it could “wind up” Italy a long-term debt, comparable to the Greek debt to the EU that arose over many years.
But the emergency situation in connection with the coronavirus revealed the failures and flaws of the European Union, and at the same time showed the important role of nation-states. In Europe, we have recently seen a series of events marking the end of a supranational model. Firstly, the borders were suddenly closed – Austria and Slovenia closed them unilaterally, without consulting the Italian government. This action of Austria and Slovenia was also symbolic: Italy was not just isolated, it was abandoned to cope with the disaster on its own.
Failures of globalization
Globalization has its advantages, but the health care system, which was bent under the blow of a sudden crisis, turned out to be unreliable due to globalization too – life-saving ventilation devices and protective suits for doctors are not made in Italy. Even elementary face masks are not produced. The global evolution of the “chains” of production has led to the export of production – the things you need are ordered to manufacturers abroad, the country becomes dependent on cheap imports of vital things from abroad. A catastrophe with a coronavirus happened – and now many countries prohibit the export of medical equipment from their territory. A good example is Turkey. This country takes many EU funds with pleasure, and many liberals would like to see it as a member of the EU. And here you are, please
Italians are now teaming up to fight the pandemic. Many Italian companies have established “home” production of medical equipment: our textile industry has switched to the production of masks, for example. The only manufacturer of respiratory equipment in Italy, located in Bologna, is now not able to meet the country’s needs and “close the gap” with the absence of lung ventilation devices. Army technicians are helping this enterprise build up its production capacity.
So what did the coronavirus teach us in Italy? One of the great nations of the world is doing everything possible to become self-sufficient, and the crisis every day proves that the propaganda of the singers of globalization was not true. We see several strategic sectors, such as healthcare, transport, energy, defense and telecommunications – in all these sectors, the approach should be from the point of view of national security, and not a pure business.
This is a new, unprecedented understanding that unites Italy today. We have witnessed the return of patriotism: flags hang from the windows and Italian citizens sing patriotic songs. But there is one more thing that needs to be taken into account: our freedom. Some politicians, including former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, propose monitoring the movement of citizens using the geolocation of their mobile phones and data from telecommunication companies. The goal is to be able to punish citizens for violations of the lockdown. It smacks of Big Brother state. The collection of “big data” for statistical purposes should be separated from total control over the lives of individual citizens. Otherwise, the Orwellian precedent will be created. Such anti-democratic approaches can become additional ideological blows to society, complementing destruction,
Turn to China as a mistake
Meanwhile, we are witnessing a dangerous turn in the rhetoric adopted by the government. This turn came about as a result of an emotional response to Chinese “help” at the time of the crisis. This approach, which is becoming less critical in relation to communist China, shows blindness to the long-term goals of Chinese foreign policy and to the fact that in its actions China resembles an arsonist who helps to put out the fire, which he himself started. Only recently, the Chinese government sent medical assistance to Italy, not forgetting to add a propaganda camera to the parcel – to record this event. But this gesture should not “whiten” the Chinese Communist Party from responsibility. According to the South China Morning Post, the first case of coronavirus in China can be traced back to November 17, 2019.
The most unpleasant side of this Italian pro-Chinese mood is that it is based on false facts. China is presented as a pure benefactor, and Chinese fans for the lungs are presented as gifts. In fact, Italy paid for these devices under the contract. The fact that the EU left us should not push Italians to look at China without any criticism.
In the midst of the crisis that makes Italy particularly vulnerable, it is necessary to maintain clarity of consciousness and remember how China quickly turned soft power and public diplomacy into a very tough and real power. This is the goal of the “One Belt – One Way” initiative, described by Chinese leader Xi Jinping in his book “Ruling China.” This initiative has brought billions of investments to a number of regions that stretch from Piraeus in Greece to the Balkans and the Italian region of Trieste. As early as May 2019, Italy became the first state of the G7 to join the One Belt – One Road Initiative.
We must not forget about the incompatibility of values - Chinese and ours. In this regard, one should not forget about Chinese violations of human rights and China’s denial of freedom and democracy. Recently, when [US Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo called Italian Prime Minister Luigi di Mayo. The call aims to emphasize US solidarity with Italy, but Pompeo did not forget to warn Italy against ties with China, saying: “The day will come, and we will appreciate how the world reacted to Chinese propaganda.” And yet, despite Pompeo’s warning, the Italian government does not seem to notice openly imperial Chinese ambitions in Europe.
It is still too early to draw long-term economic conclusions from the events surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, but it is already clear that the best way to answer the new challenge was nation states, while applying their right to manage their own borders and tax policies. And when this emergency situation ends, the legitimacy of the institutions of the European Union (EU) will undoubtedly be called into question.
But there is another way that Italy can choose after moving away from the EU: it can become an independent center of trade in the Mediterranean, increase its presence in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, and also revive its role as a center of Catholic Christianity throughout the world. To make Italy great again is not only a dream. This is an achievable opportunity.
(Francesco Jubilei is an entrepreneur, author and freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the founder and president of Nazione Futura magazine)
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