Listening to the pandemic

Federica Mogherini asks what we can learn from coronavirus

In the face of COVID-19, we need to admit the political mistakes of recent years and adjust our trajectory according to the compass of reality. People around the world – institutional and political leaders, but, ultimately, all of us – must put reality first

As of a few weeks ago, no-one would have disputed that the most relevant and evident trend in the global politics of our times is ʺgo nationalʺ. Unilateralism and ʺzero-sum gameʺ logic seemed to be the new normal: ʺFor me to win, I need you to loseʺ and ʺMe firstʺ.

These phrases seemed to be the unequivocal and almost uncontested trademark of this century. Moreover, it was a trademark that had almost no limits in terms of geography and ideology: you found it in many different shades, but on each and every continent, in each and every political orientation (including many varieties of unlabelled political movements), across a wide range of institutional systems, and even within some international organisations.

This trend seemed to consolidate by the day, with very few voices trying to argue for a co-operative international approach, multilateralism, win-win solutions and a search for common ground and community-based policies, rather than a purely individualistic vision of society.

Today, as the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the entire world, putting at risk so many of our lives and shaking the foundations of our everyday way of life, we need to ask if this paradigm is likely to remain the predominant one. Is the pandemic going to strengthen it, or are there lessons we will learn?

The compass of reality

Can a virus challenge some of the assumptions on which the current global political landscape is based?

Is it going to make us focus on what really counts, on what unites us as humanity, or is it going to fuel the sense of fear and suspicion among and within communities, dividing us even more, increasing the level of toxic rhetoric and behaviours that have already poisoned our societies, and partially paralysed our collective capacity to act efficiently?

Are we going to use this crisis as an opportunity to call some of the mistakes of recent years by their name, and adjust our trajectory at last to the compass of reality? This pandemic is telling us a number of things loud and clear. If we are willing to listen, these truths are few and simple.

First, the global community exists. What happens far away has an impact (even a vital one) here and now. A sneeze on one continent has direct repercussions on another. We are connected, we are one. All attempts to consider borders as dividing lines and to classify people by nationality, ethnicity, gender, or religious belief – all of this loses meaning at once, as our bodies are all equally exposed to the virus, no matter who we are.

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