Anxiety? No, not us — or only just a little bit

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Thomas Wiersing - The Philippine Star

When I was thinking about a topic for this month’s column, a colleague suggested to me ‘anxiety.’ My instinctive reaction was: No, this is not what the EU stands for, this is not what we should convey, this is not my mind-set. Ever since the EU was created, we have been confronted with diverse challenges (financial crisis, refugees, you name it), but we have always come up with a plan.

But then I thought that the colleague hit a nerve: There are tensions in the region and elsewhere; the killing of George Floyd; challenges to press freedom and liberal democracy in many countries (and Europe is not immune); climate change, and of course COVID-19. I grew up in Western Europe and my generation was lucky enough to be spared from crisis such as wars. But this pandemic raises serious questions: When can my kids go back to school?  When can we visit our families and friends? How will the pandemic change our lives and impact on our economies? Will I be safe when I travel to or arrive at my workplace? All this creates a climate of anxiety. Good leadership also requires that we acknowledge a widespread sentiment and do not simply put up a brave face, saying ‘that is just a bad flu.’ It is in admitting that anxiety exists, there lies also strength.

However, the feeling of anxiety usually is not a good adviser. Rather than getting overwhelmed by a dubious feeling, the right attitude is to carefully analyse the challenges we are confronted with – on the basis of science and facts, not of vague feelings – and then to address them as good and responsibly as we can.

But how can we address these challenges? In times of crisis, you have to adapt but also to use some of the tested approaches that worked in the past. For the EU (and maybe also for many others, including individuals) this means to stick to what worked and our values and interests. The risks of climate change have not become smaller just because we are in a recession. Freedom of expression is not less but more important in difficult times.

In this vein, Europe is currently working on opening its internal and external borders. The European Commission made a proposal for a €750 billion recovery instrument, including direct grants and long-term loans, to strengthen and modernise the EU internal market and to demonstrate unity and solidarity.

Together with Member States, the EU is taking robust action to protect Europeans from the impact of COVID-19. Since the virus knows no borders, it remains a potential threat to public health everywhere.

As a staunch supporter of international cooperation, multilateralism and human rights, the EU therefore continues to lead in providing international emergency relief, long-term development support, conflict prevention and peace-building assistance.

True to our core values of solidarity and cooperation, the EU has continued providing support to partners around the world including in the Philippines. I recently turned over devices and protective personal equipment worth P3 million to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. This is part of the P10 million allocation to the justice sector of the EU GOJUST Governance in Justice Programme. These complemented other initiatives including P50 million relief distribution to vulnerable communities, P17 million for the Enhanced Biosecurity in Southeast Asia or the P1 billion provided to strengthen the Word Health Organization’s COVID-19 response in eight ASEAN countries including the Philippines.

And what does it mean for us as individuals? Basically the same applies: Let’s try to understand the risks without overstating them, hold dear to our well cherished freedoms, exercise solidarity, especially with the front liners all around the world (including the many Filipinos in Europe), while applying new COVID-19 safety rules. And to believe that there is the proverbial light at the end of tunnel. Maybe you would not expect me, in times of Brexit, to finish this column with a quote by Queen Elizabeth II (who experienced World War II) but it provided comfort to many: “We will meet again.”

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(Thomas Wiersing is Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. of the EU Delegation to the Philippines.)

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