A papal economist has criticised countries such as the Netherlands and Germany for their lack of solidarity in the coronavirus crisis with Italy and Spain.

– “No country can get out of this situation alone”

“The Netherlands and Germany say that they can only help the southern countries, which are most affected by the disease, up to a certain limit. This is unacceptable. You cannot speak of a true European Union if there is no solidarity among its members”, Bologna economist and President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Stefano Zamagni, deplored April 14 in a virtual roundtable with journalists.

Lamenting that in Europe “there isn’t a union, there’s only a convergence of interests”, Zamagni explained that the coronavirus is demonstrating that “Europe needs a soul supplement”.

“We must return to the principles of the founders of the EU, because no country can get out of this situation alone”, the Italian economist insisted.

– “This European Union model is not good”

In the background to Zamagni’s remarks Tuesday was the half-a-trillion euro stimulus package eurozone finance ministers agreed to last week to help the economies of southern states hardest hit by the pandemic.

Due to the concerns of fiscally-conservative countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Finland, that package, however, didn’t include the issuance of joint debt via ‘coronabonds’, leading to concerns Italy and Spain will be even further weighed down by deficits.

“One thing this pandemic makes us understand is that this European Union model is not good”, the President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences lamented, adding “it’s fine for ordinary things… but not when extraordinary phenomena happen”.

The reason for that lack of solidarity among EU states is that the treaties of union have only the legal status “of a contract… The language is the same”, Zamagni denounced.

“There is no need to be an expert in the economy to know the difference” between treaty and contract, he explained, pointing out that, in the market, “if I wish to sell my house, of course I will look for an adequate price for mine, as you would for yours”.

“But when this logic is applied among governments, what comes out is what we’re seeing”, the Italian economist denounced.

– A “paper” parliament

Zamagni offered two further examples that he said showed up the “impotence” of the current EU in dealing with catastrophes such as the coronavirus pandemic or, further back, the 2008 global financial crisis.

On the one hand, Europe “doesn’t have a parliament”, the economist said.

“One can say, ‘it’s not true!’ Sure, on paper, yes”, he explained, protesting however that ‘on paper’ doesn’t necessarily translate into “action”.

“The European Parliament is limited to giving advice, to promoting motions which are almost never realised”, Zamagni continued.

The Bologna academic insisted that “if we want to believe in the principle of democracy, we must understand that government guidelines are needed, and for the government to do them, [but] this is not there, because save very few cases: parliament doesn’t have the power or direct control to direct the European Commission”.

– On migration, “Mediterranean countries pay a price that Nordic countries don’t pay”

The other area in which Zamagni warned the present political union in Europe is toothless is that of the migrant influx into the continent.

“How can you speak of a European foreign policy when each one has their own, often at odds with those of others?”, the economist asked.

He affirmed that different migration policies in different eurozone states are the reason “why Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Spain pay a price that Nordic countries don’t pay”.

– Pope Francis’ warning to Brussels of an “epochal challenge”

In calling the EU of today back to the 1957 Treaty of Rome that founded the European Community and proclaimed that “the first element of European vitality must be solidarity”, Zamagni echoed sentiments Pope Francis expressed in a message Easter day.

“After the Second World War, [Europe] was able to rise again, thanks to a concrete spirit of solidarity that enabled it to overcome the rivalries of the past”, the pontiff said at his traditional Urbi et orbi blessing Sunday.

Francis continued by insisting that “it is more urgent than ever, especially in the present circumstances, that these rivalries do not regain force, but that all recognise themselves as part of a single family and support one another”.

“The European Union is presently facing an epochal challenge, on which will depend not only its future but that of the whole world”, the Pope warned, urging politicians to “not lose the opportunity to give further proof of solidarity, also by turning to innovative solutions”.

“The only alternative is the selfishness of particular interests and the temptation of a return to the past, at the risk of severely damaging the peaceful coexistence and development of future generations”, Francis cautioned.

More on Novena on the challenges of coronavirus for Europe:

In Easter blessing, Pope urges world to “ban forever… indifference, self-centredness, division and forgetfulness”

Cardinal Hollerich denounces EU coronavirus discord: “The politicians are falling short”

Expressing “closeness and solidarity” to coronavirus-hit Spain, German Bishops’ head shows up “pettiness” of Chancellor Merkel

Churches push Brussels for “concrete expressions of our shared European responsibility” on coronavirus

On coronavirus, Church development network urges Brussels: “Now is the time for Europewide solidarity”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.