europe

COVID-19 deaths surpass 76,000 in Europe as Spanish government sends millions back to work
Robert Stevens, WSWS, Apr 13 2020

More than 76,600 people have died from COVID-19 in Europe, according to official figures, with a further 3,021 reported dead yesterday. Britain is the latest country to record over 10,000 deaths of COVID-19 after France, Spain, Italy and Pindostan. A further 737 people were announced dead from COVID-19 on Sunday, taking the overall toll to 10,612. New infections in Britain rose by 5,288 to 84,279. There remain over 70,000 confirmed active cases of coronavirus, with over 1,500 people classed as serious or critical. According to modelling advice to the Conservative government, the peak of the outbreak is expected to be reached over the next two weeks. Sunday saw PM Johnson discharged from hospital, after being admitted a week previously. It emerged that Johnson, who had to spend three nights in intensive care, was close to death at one stage. Yesterday Professor John Ashton, a former regional director of Public Health England and former president of the Faculty of Public Health, accused the government of distorting the death figures in their attempts to conceal the real numbers. Ashton told Sky News:

At the moment, a lot of what’s going on in these briefings is coming very close to lies, and we must prevent this from happening at all costs. It may be one and a half times, what we’ve got, it may even be twice as many. You know, if I was to say it’s 10, let’s call it 20. Is my truth any better than their truth in this?

The government is taking the same indifferent attitude to the numbers of NHS workers who are dying. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Saturday that there had already been 19 deaths. On Sunday, as four more NHS workers were reported dead in the hours since his previous announcement, he declined to give a more up-to-date figure. It is estimated that more than 30 NHS workers have died, with the latest fatality being Donna Campbell, who worked at Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff and perished at the University Hospital Wales. At one major Welsh hospital, the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport, about half of A&E consultants and nurses have contracted coronavirus and are off work. The number of NHS staff falling victim to COVID-19 is extraordinary, and can only be explained as the result of inadequate and even non-existent provision of PPE. Another worker who died, Abd’ul-Mabud Chowdhury, a consultant urologist at Homerton hospital in Hackney, East London, wrote a Facebook message to Johnson last month insisting on the immediate issuing of PPE for front-line staff and fast-tracking of COVID-19 testing for health-care workers. Each of the three nurses recently photographed wearing bin-bags as makeshift PPE, has since been infected with COVID-19. Hancock provoked public outrage when he said Friday:

We need everyone to treat PPE like the precious resource it is. Everyone should use the equipment they clinically need, in line with the guidelines, no more and no less. Staying at home is the main way to avoid infection. A front door is better than any face mask.

Asked his thoughts on Hancock’s PPE statements, Professor Ashton replied:

The idea that personal protection is a special resource is beyond unacceptable. You have to give working men and women the tools with which to do their job, and their job of work in the front line of this highly contagious virus that can be fatal to health workers, as to anybody else, means they must have proper protection and you know, that’s not just a flimsy pinny, it’s actually proper equipment to be able to wear and to discard. Let’s be 21st century about this, not Dickensian, please. I think we should be hearing a lot more about the health workers who are being put in harm’s way by the lack of personal protection. The amount of attention Boris Johnson’s discharge from hospital is now getting, particularly since he’s on the mend compared to the double figures or more of health workers who’ve died or are very sick, I find really shocking in itself, because the NHS workers are putting themselves on the line for us.

NHS staff are being infected and are dying because of government policies. It emerged Sunday that the stockpile of PPE protective equipment for healthcare workers, to be used in the event of a pandemic, fell in value by almost 40% over the past six years. The stockpile’s value was cut from £831m in 2013 to £506m by March last year. More than 715,000 people have signed a petition calling on the government to provide PPE for all front-line NHS staff. As the death rates have mounted, governments throughout Europe have spent the last weeks conspiring to get the population back to work. The first mass return to work directive has been issued in Spain, with around 4m workers going back today. Many hundreds are still dying every day in a country that has the highest rate of deaths on the planet, 366 per million. A further 510 died Saturday and 619 on Sunday, taking Spain’s total over 17,000, the third highest in the world behind Italy and Pindostan. Entire sections of the economy are being flung open, with industrial and construction workers having restrictions on working lifted. Service-based companies, including those selling hygiene products, press and stationery will be allowed to trade. Other businesses permitted to open are petrol stations, tech equipment suppliers, tobacconists, pet food shops, ecommerce operations, dry cleaners. Hairdressers are being permitted to go to people’s homes. Workers are being sent back to work under conditions that can only spread the virus, leading to more deaths, and the Spanish Socialist Party and pseudo-left Podemos coalition government could not care less. It has formulated a “guide of good practices in the workplace” with several recommendations that are nonsensical. For example, workers are advised to avoid crowding in public transport. Under the guidelines, workers can get infected at work as long as when they return home, they remember to disinfect mobile phone and glasses and leave their shoes at the front door! In Italy, another 431 people died taking the tally to almost 20,000 (19,899). PM Giuseppe Conte has signed a decree extending the lockdown until May 3. Conte has named Vittorio Colao, former CEO of Vodafone, to head a task force that will help map out an exit from the lockdown and enforce a return to work. Conte said:

Italy can’t wait for the virus to disappear completely.

The decree allows the Apr 14 opening of stationery stores, bookshops and children’s clothing stores, and includes the forestry and wood industry among the permitted production activities. The back-to-work plan is being rolled out even as the country is bracing for thousands more deaths. More than 350 field hospitals have been constructed, and more are being built to cope with the tsunami of intensive care patients. On Tuesday, Milan opened an intensive care field hospital for 200 patients at the city fairgrounds, complete with a pharmacy and radiology wards. It expects to eventually employ 900 staff. At least another two are being completed in Rome. In France, 561 more deaths were announced, taking fatalities to 14,393. The number of hospital patients requiring intensive care stands at 6,845. In Germany, 125 deaths were announced, bringing the total to 2,996. The official death tolls reported daily by European governments are now widely discredited, as virtually none report the number of deaths occurring outside hospital, at home or in residential care homes. Every day, horror stories emerge across the continent of hundreds who have died without ever being offered emergency hospital treatment, or after having been denied treatment as they were not deemed a “priority.” France recently began publishing COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, with 246 reported dead on Sunday.

Spanish unions support back-to-work order amid raging pandemic
Alejandro López, WSWS, Apr 13 2020

Coffins with the bodies of victims of coronavirus are stored waiting for burial or cremation
at the Collserola morgue in Barcelona, Spain (Photo: Emilio Morenatti/AP)

Spain’s trade unions are endorsing the politically criminal policy of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Podemos government to force workers back to work today, even as the pandemic is nowhere near ending, with over 20,000 deaths. The measure threatens to lead to hundreds of thousands of more infections and tens of thousands of deaths, while big business reaps massive profits. From today, around 4m workers return to work in the construction and industry, including auto, in crowded public transport and without any proper protection gear. Workers will not only risk their lives, but those of their dependents and partners at home. Spain, ruled by a coalition of the social-democratic PSOE and the populist Podemos party, is one of Europe’s first countries to force workers back on the job amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is nowhere near controlled. Yesterday, authorities announced that 619 people had died in Spain from COVID-19, an increase of almost 100 people over the previous day. The was a blow after Spain reported its lowest daily death count in three weeks on Saturday: 510 people. Such facts run counter the government’s claims that the pandemic is under control and that confinement is not being relaxed. Minister of Interior Fernando Grande-Marlaska said last Friday:

There will be no relaxation of measures after the return to non-essential work. We are still in the confinement phase and we all have to have this clear. We have not started the de-escalation.

Standing next to him, Health Minister Salvador Illa stressed that the decision was based on “the recommendations of the experts.” In fact, the measure has been taken against the scientific advice by the government’s own expert committee on COVID-19, the WHO and leading epidemiologists. It was soon revealed last Friday that the government did not even bother to consult the committee of experts, aware of its members’ opposition to this policy. The government has not even enforced a health and safety protocol for employees to work in a safe environment. Instead, on Friday, the government made a number of cynical recommendations aimed at saving their face while allowing millions to risk their lives for profits. Workers who have symptoms, “however slight,” should not return to their jobs, and all workers will have to maintain a minimum distance of one meter “two, if possible,” “wash their hands regularly” and, in some cases in which crowding is inevitable, cover their mouth with masks. The unions not only do not oppose the criminal policy but have become its chief enforcers. As Renault autoworkers complain they are being sent back to a “slaughterhouse,” it is the unions who are bussing them to the catastrophe. Their main concern has been to work with management to extract as much profit as possible. They have only supported lockdown measures when it became impossible to control wildcat strikes and eruptions of anger in factories and workplaces. In Spain, the PSOE-Podemos government has tasked the unions with developing health and safety protocols with businesses at sectorial and regional level, aware that in most cases business cannot comply. The right-wing daily La Razón said:

When asked to keep a minimum separation of two meters between workers, many companies are neither prepared to make this distance effective nor do they have protective equipment (masks, especially) to minimize the risk of contagion if they cannot guarantee those two meters.

Podemos and the unions have even admitted this publicly. Last Friday, in a press conference after a meeting with Podemos Minister of Labour Yolanda Díaz Pérez, Unai Sordo for the Stalinist CCOO (Workers Commissions), Spain’s largest trade union, had to admit:

There are currently thousands of companies that are not in a position to guarantee these health and safety conditions.

The role of the anarcho-syndicalist General Confederation of Labor (CGT) union, promoted as “radical” by forces around Podemos, is no different. While issuing a few toothless complaints about the back-to-work policy, it is giving the government recommendations for its implementation. In a statement last Friday, CGT said:

All infections related to COVID-19 suffered by workers, whatever industry they are in, must be considered for all purposes as a labour accident, during the service and while commuting.

Workers will be happy to hear that the CGT is also demanding that, if workers die of COVID-19 making profits for their bosses, this should also be consider a labour-related death. The pandemic has not only exposed the sharp class divide between the ultra-wealthy oligarchy, and the working-class majority, but also the interests served by petty-bourgeois populist parties like Podemos and unions like CCOO, UGT and CGT. The unions support big business and the government sending workers to work despite the COVID-19 risk. They also say workers must pay back working hours lost by business during confinement by working longer hours and giving up vacation days in coming months. On the other side, the working class opposes any lifting of any measure which will allow the virus to continue spreading and killing, defending that only essential services remain open. Internationally, it has been the workers who have forced total confinement measures by shutting down entire industries through wildcat strikes, like those in auto plants in Pindostan, in defiance of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, and similar walkouts in Italy, Spain and Canada against union-management efforts to continue production despite unsafe conditions. For decades, the unions have negotiated austerity, wage cuts, redundancies and speed-up in the workplaces. In this period, the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), publisher of the WSWS, stood alone in fighting populist parties like Podemos and exposing the unions as anti-working-class organisations, calling for workers instead to form action committees independent of the unions. Now the unions serve as open policemen for the bosses, extracting profits at the risk of the lives of workers they falsely claim to represent.

Faced with the malign neglect of the ruling elite, and as unions trying to march workers to their deaths, the working class is itself moving into action. After mass wildcat strikes erupted across Italy, workers in several factories in Spain also struck to demand to be allowed to shelter at home. The PSOE and Podemos responded by unleashing regional riot police to violently assault striking steelworkers. Such struggles, however, requires workers to form independent Action Committees to coordinate strike struggles, opposition to predictable repression by governments across Europe, and a struggle for state power to go to the working class. These committees can demand the immediate shutdown of non-essential work, with full income for workers affected. No worker should be told to needlessly risk his or her life. Workers laid off must receive full pay, financed by companies and the state. Rent, mortgage and utility payments must be suspended. Where work must continue, as in health care, transportation, food production and other critical sectors, measures must be implemented to guarantee workers’ safety and their rights. Every work location must be staffed with trained health professionals and given the necessary equipment like protective clothing, masks and gloves. The essential principle guiding the response to this crisis must be that the needs of workers take absolute and unconditional priority over all considerations of corporate profit and private wealth.

German nurses, carers, transport and delivery workers raise their voices
Ulrich Rippert, WSWS, Apr 13 2020

Truck driver Uwe Kleinsorge says on Spiegel Online:

If all the truck drivers in Germany stopped working, there wouldn’t be anything left. Supermarket shelves would be empty, letters would no longer be delivered. I’m taking woodchips to a power station right now. Without me, the sawmill would at some point no longer be able to continue working, and the power station would also have to close down. The consequences are clear. Everyone depends on our work.

Erika Radisavljevic, 53, works as a cleaner in a hospital in southern Bavaria. She tells Spiegel Online:

I have been cleaning in a hospital for four years, mainly the patients’ rooms, mostly in the gynaecology department, for which I get €11 gross per hour. Most of us cleaning women have an immigration background and many have small children, so we need this part-time job. Sometimes the importance of our work is underestimated. Last week, I voluntarily worked ten-hour extra shifts. In the process, I disinfected the reception rooms of patients suspected of having coronavirus. When you hear the reports from Italy about how many hospital staff are infected, you can get anxious. The work is very strenuous and the harsh cleaning agents are harmful to health. But someone has to do the work. Clean rooms are a prerequisite for the virus and other germs to spread less. I am pleased when now many people and politicians applaud. On the other hand, applause alone cannot pay the rent.

The coronavirus crisis is currently making it very clear who is really “systemically relevant” to social life: not the billionaires and super-rich, who have retreated to their luxury villas or ocean-going yachts, from there make their outrageous demands for higher returns, but the working class, which produces all of society’s wealth and maintains the vital public services needed on a daily basis. A new self-confidence is currently emerging among workers. This is accompanied by growing criticism of the government, which unreservedly represents the interests of the rich, providing hundreds of billions of euros to the corporations, banks and capital owners, while at the same time doing nothing to change the disastrous conditions in hospitals, nursing homes and other important areas of work. Anger is growing, especially among medical staff. It is well known to what extent the health system has been cut to the very bone, privatised and turned to increasing “shareholder value” over the last thirty years. Everywhere, there is a shortage of beds, staff, medical equipment and protective equipment. Staying in hospitals and nursing homes is now life-threatening for patients, doctors and nurses. At DocCheck, a network for medical workers with more than 500,000 registered members, under the heading “I am worthy of protection,” health and nursing care worker Sarah F from Hamburg demands her fellow health workers not accept instructions that safety standards are no longer being met. She criticises the decision of the Robert Koch Institute public health body to relax the quarantine obligation for medical staff. In future, quarantine would not necessarily be observed after unprotected contact with an infected patient, according to RKI. The decision by Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) to relax the working hours regulations for hospital staff and to lift the lower staffing limit for certain wards has also met with massive criticism. The same blog quotes Ulrike, an emergency room nurse:

Are we still citizens of this country at all? Or are we simply a resource that can be exploited, exhausted and used up?! We only find out days later whether patients tested positive or negative; whether we had contact, is difficult to say. We cannot remember all the names of the patients who come through the emergency room. Even if we do, the RKI and the politicians classify us as systemically relevant, different rules apply. ‘Work until you drop, and don’t take off your face mask.’ I am tired of denouncing the conditions and being described as negative. I am tired of the fact that the simplest rules of hygiene are not being observed because unqualified personnel have been retrained and ‘anyone can care’ has been propagated. Not everyone can do it! Professional carers must finally be listened to, we have been warning for years and now everyone is surprised with the force with which corona hits us.

Andreas is a nurse. DocCheck quotes from his e-mail:

Our hospital has already had several positive cases. Two ventilated intensive care patients have already passed away this week. It is a frightening but real scenario that is catching up with us now. I am very worried.

In the comments column, doctor Bodo Brudniok writes:

I call this exploitation of all nurses and doctors criminal. The undermining of all occupational health and safety laws is also criminal. Neglecting the employer’s duty to protect his employees is also criminal. I also call the irresponsible politicians who have not prepared for this case criminal, and they are only trying to distract from their failure. For this, they are mercilessly walking over the corpses of the nurses and doctors who try to help and assist patients at the risk of their lives. On the backs of those making the most effort, the same politicians are trying to depict themselves as great crisis managers. This is a disgusting spectacle. Ever since the last pandemics, all those responsible had known about it. It is a crime that despite detailed pandemic plans, not even protective clothing, disinfectants and enough hospital beds had been provided.

Contributor Medman writes in another comment:

I think that after this crisis, it is time for doctors and nurses to stand up together. To stand up against laws that challenge our physical integrity, laws that force us to work without adequate protection. Moreover, adequate remuneration for medical staff is urgently needed.

A paramedic from Chemnitz wrote to the WSWS:

Here is a short report from Saxony about my experience since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. Staff are not tested, this is only done in cases of symptoms and unprotected contact with confirmed covid infected persons. The whole thing is a vicious circle that works like this: Someone has all the symptoms, but can’t prove they’ve been in the risk area or had close contact with someone who tested positive, resulting in no testing, even in a hospital. But if the person was infected, his contacts cannot be tested, because the person of origin was not tested etc, and yet the risk areas are already history, the virus is everywhere! The next problem, someone is positive, we drive them to the hospital, we protect ourselves, but we still have to deal with smart cards, referral papers, transport documents etc, which the patients partly hold in their hands, and paper cannot be disinfected! Extensive tests would finally have to be carried out so that what had happened here in the last few weeks would not be repeated. Almost a complete village was infected by a physiotherapist and a waiter, several people have already died!

An employee of the online supermarket Picnic reported to the WSWS about high workloads and lack of security since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. He wrote:

There is a lack of disinfectants and face masks, protective goggles and other equipment for the safety of suppliers at work and in vans, who are in daily contact with customers in risk groups. Even the delivery vans with which several workers travel every day are not professionally cleaned and disinfected. The same applies to the forklift trucks at the respective company locations. Despite inadequate safety precautions and a lack of hygiene measures, the company continues to operate without restrictions. Demands by employees for hazard pay have so far been rejected, on the grounds that the company was only two years old and could not afford it, and the risks of the corona crisis were exaggerated. Instead of spreading panic, the workers themselves should pay attention to safety and trust the company, which at some point will have a thank-you note ready.

Workers in the car industry are also concerned about the dangerous effects of the pandemic. VW workers discuss conditions for resuming work in an online forum where a joint statement by the works council and management creates unrest. It opens with the usual pompous words about “health taking precedence over speed” when production is restarted, and that they support “the federal and state governments in their efforts against corona to the fullest extent.” Then works council leader and IG Metall union bureaucrat Bernd Osterloh and personnel director Gunnar Kilian announces the gradual resumption of work immediately after Easter, writing:

As far as the restart is concerned, it has so far been decided that from Tuesday after Easter, some parts of the component production will expand the already running partial operation in order to secure supplies to the Chinese plants.

This would affect employees at the components sites in Braunschweig, Kassel and Salzgitter as well as Chemnitz and Hanover. A concerned employee asks:

Is there any information on how to proceed with colleagues who have previous illnesses?

Another writes:

I am, demonstrably, an asthmatic. I am on short-time work until Apr 19 as a precaution. I don’t need or want corona.

A third says:

What do I do if I have a high-risk kid at home?

A VW worker has linked to an N-TV article in which a colleague from Braunschweig reports:

I have to continue working, which is becoming more and more difficult. Meanwhile, you have to watch out for so much, so you don’t even know what’s right or wrong anymore. It’s not always possible to maintain a two-meter distance. Now we are told to come to work in our work clothes, so that there is no crowding in the washing machines. Maybe they’ll close them completely.

In the coming days, the catastrophic situation in many hospitals and businesses will continue to worsen and the pressure to resume work under totally unsafe and irresponsible conditions will increase. Send information and reports to the WSWS so we can provide detailed reports to workers around the world.

EU to spend €500b on imperialist interests in coronavirus bail-out
Peter Schwarz, WSWS, Apr 13 2020

After a 14-hour video conference and two days of telephone diplomacy, which also involved leaders in Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, the EU finance ministers agreed on Thursday evening to a bail-out package worth €500b. Its alleged aim is to help states hit especially hard by the coronavirus that were already in economic difficulty prior to its outbreak. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) commented:

Today is a great day of European solidarity and strength. This is about the health of citizens, this is about securing jobs, and it’s about making sure that many companies make it through the crisis.

None of this is true. The coronavirus has glaringly exposed the character of the capitalist system and its institutions. That also goes for the EU, which does not embody the unity of Europe and its population, but the interests of the major banks and corporations. The bail-out is neither aimed at strengthening the health-care system, nor at protecting jobs. It does not protect any company from collapse, at least not any that is of social value. Like the national bail-out programmes, which outstrip the EU bail-out in terms of their size, and the European Central Bank’s purchasing programme, which will see it buy €1.1t of government and corporate debt this year, the EU bail-out is aimed at guaranteeing the wealth of the stock markets, banks, and speculators. The slightly more than €500b package agreed to by the finance ministers is composed of three parts. A maximum of €240b will be made up of loans made available by the European Stability Mechanism, the agency established in the wake of the euro debt crisis. States in trouble can apply for loans from the ESM worth up to 2% of their GDP. Disagreements over the conditions to be attached to these loans nearly caused the entire deal to collapse. The Dutch government insisted that countries accepting loans must impose tax hikes and pension cuts, as has previously been the case, but Italy rejected this. Although the conditions have been loosened somewhat, the loans can only be used to pay for costs associated with the coronavirus crisis and must be repaid. €200b is comprised of loan guarantees from the European Investment Bank (EIB) for small and mid-sized companies. To this end, the 27 EU member states agreed to guarantees worth €25b. A further €100b will come from the European Commission, which will offer cut-rate loans if the cost for Europe’s short-time work programmes increase. These are also loans that will have to be repaid at a later date, at the expense of social services, health-care and education. The bail-out package also does not strengthen European solidarity, as Scholz claims. On the contrary, it deepens the economic divisions within Europe and therefore plays directly into the hands of chauvinist forces. The bail-out programmes following the 2008 financial crisis also had this effect. Countries which accepted these programmes ended up with higher levels of debt when they were completed than before, their social, health-care and education systems lay in ruins, and only international banks profited handsomely.

The two-day squabble between the finance ministers provided a foretaste of what is still to come. They were unable to agree on the most contentious issue of all, the eurobonds or so-called “coronabonds.” They merely agreed to review “innovative forms of financing,” without committing to the specifics of these forms. The basic idea of “coronabonds” is that countries with low levels of state debt that emerged strengthened from the financial crisis should issue joint bonds with the more indebted countries, which were subjected to EU-dictated austerity during the last crisis. The latter group of states would benefit from this because they would be able to pay lower interest rates than if they issued bonds themselves. Germany, the Netherlands and some other northern European countries have persistently opposed these bonds, claiming that the EU treaties do not provide for common liability for state debt. By contrast, Italy, Spain, and other southern European countries are firmly in favour. France has emerged as the leading spokesman for this camp. Some movement has now occurred in the “coronabonds” debate. However, the goal is not to support the long-suffering populations of the highly indebted countries. Any money raised through the bonds, like everything else, would flow into the accounts of the big banks and boost the share markets. Rather, the much greater concern is that the conflicts between competing capitalist cliques could provoke a fragmentation of the EU, weaken Germany’s economic position, and strengthen China. The conflict over “coronabonds” is therefore increasingly dominated by the fear that China could have the last laugh if the EU fails to get its act together. The issue here is not solidarity, but imperialist interests: how can the European imperialist powers assert their interests in a world characterised by the decline of Pindo imperialism and the rise of China? Italian PM Giuseppe Conte made an urgent appeal for “coronabonds” in the German weekly news magazine Die Zeit on Apr 2. He pledged to redouble attacks on the working class and on social welfare systems following the coronavirus crisis, writing:

The key is to protect companies in these difficult times from hostile takeovers. Don’t forget that after the crisis is overcome, we will confront a complex geopolitical landscape, the major problems of which we have already experienced over recent years: the crisis of multilateralism, economic tensions, the pressure of immigration, and terrorism. With all of these problems, we will either raise our voices as Europeans or not at all. Italy, in contrast to what we now constantly hear, went through a difficult process of fiscal adjustment following the state debt crisis, with consistent primary budget surpluses between 2010 and 2019. This path of transparently administering our finances will continue after we overcome this crisis according to jointly agreed upon regulations.

The supporters of eurobonds in Germany, including the Greens, Left Party, sections of the SPD, economists and even sections of the Christian Democrats, which previously opposed them, have laid stress on their significance for European imperialism. In a “wake-up call” which appeared in the Apr 5 edition of Tagesspiegel, former Foreign Ministers Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) and Joschka Fischer (Greens) warned:

In the face of the greatest challenge since its founding, the EU is threatening to fail miserably. Instead, we see that powers like Russia and China very publicly organise aid shipments to underscore Europe’s deficits. Germany benefits most economically and financially from Europe. We even earned money from the Greek financial crisis. In the true sense of the word, Europe creates surplus value for all, especially for Germany, and particularly in an economic and financial sense. Germany must now show its readiness to lead in Europe, best of all in alliance with France. Europe needs common assistance during the crisis and a common plan for reconstruction following the crisis. Then the euro become a genuine international reserve currency and an alternative to the dollar. If we don’t do that, Europe will not realise its economic sovereignty, but will always be dependent on the policy of the dollar region when it comes down to business, as we bitterly experienced in the conflict over the Iran nuclear accord. We can only rise to the great strategic challenges of the new decade, digitalisation, immigration, and security policy, by acting together. Crises can be opportunities for Europe, like the Balkan wars of the 1990s, which led to the establishment of a European foreign policy.

Fischer knows what he’s talking about. As German foreign minister, he was responsible in 1999 for the first foreign military intervention by Germany following the downfall of the Nazi regime, when Germany joined the war in Yugoslavia. He initiated the return of German militarism, which only gathered pace after his departure. For the German bourgeoisie, “coronabonds” offer a means to strengthen its hegemony in Europe, pursue its global imperialist ambitions, and push ahead with militarism. Genuine European solidarity demands one thing above all: the unification of the working class in struggle against the ruling elite, which views the coronavirus pandemic as an “opportunity for Europe” and their predatory interests. The billions now flowing into the accounts of the banks and super-rich must be deployed to combat the pandemic and guarantee the strongest possible protection of the population by continuing to pay wages in full. The huge sums of wealth, banks and corporations must be expropriated, placed under workers’ control, and used to combat the crisis. The alternative to the EU is the United Socialist States of Europe.

Fired researcher Mauro Ferrari denounces EU inaction on COVID-19
Alex Lantier, WSWS, Apr 13 2020

imageMauro Ferrari at a press conference at the 2020 WEF in Davos.

Last week, on Apr 7, distinguished nanomedicine researcher Mauro Ferrari was forced to resign as European Research Council (ERC) president. The ERC’s Scientific Council opposed his efforts to mobilize scientists across the European Union in a coordinated fight against COVID-19. The ouster of Ferrari provides a devastating indictment of the political and, one might add, moral bankruptcy of European capitalism. In his resignation letter, Ferrari denounced the EU’s calculated inaction in the pandemic, which is still surging with nearly 1m cases and over 80k deaths in Europe, long after coordinated public health measures contained outbreaks in China and South Korea. Worldwide, there are already over 1.8m COVID-19 cases and 113k deaths. Ferrari begins his letter:

Please forgive me, but I believe that the priority now is to stop the pandemic. The priority is to save millions of lives. I believe in science at the service of society, especially when it counts the most. And now it does count the most, since it is only through science that COVID-19, and its successor pandemics, will ever be defeated.

He became ERC president in Jan 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic began. Hailing from a working class area of Udine in Italy, Ferrari earned his doctorate in mechanical engineering and did research in Pindostan, moving into biomedical science after his first wife Mariluisa suddenly died of cancer in 1995. Last year the ERC said it wholeheartedly supported his nomination as president, praising his “career as an accomplished scientist and leader in Pindostan, with a rich and diverse background in the field of research and its applications.” He writes in his resignation:

I returned to Europe to lead the ERC, motivated by my commitment to the idealistic dream of a United Europe and my belief in serving the needs of the world. Those idealistic motivations were crushed by a very different reality, in the brief three months since I took office. Disquieting early warning signs gave way to the painfully icy, cold recognitions of a world entirely different from what I had envisioned. The COVID-19 pandemic shone a merciless light on how mistaken I had been. In time of emergencies people, and institutions, revert to their deepest nature and reveal their true character

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the EU as a corrupt tool of the capitalist aristocracy, indifferent to the fate of millions. While the European Central Bank gave a €750b bailout to the banks, followed by €100b’s in bail-outs by each major eurozone country, EU boxtops insisted they would not stop the spread of this deadly disease, but would allow it to infect the population, hoping surviving masses of workers would acquire what UK boxtops called “herd immunity.” With stunning indifference to human life, Merkel calmly predicted that 70% to 90% of Germans, 56m to 72m people, would fall ill. The EU adopted beggar-thy-neighbor policies, with Berlin and Paris refusing to export key medical supplies to countries worst hit by COVID-19, like Italy. This placed the EU on a collision course with scientists who argued for a coordinated international struggle against COVID-19 and for treating the sick. The fact that Ferrari had illusions in the EU as he became ERC president gives his judgment of the EU today, based on the bitter experience of the last three months, all the more force. Ferrari explains:

As it became evident that the pandemic would be a tragedy of possibly unprecedented proportions, I moved that the ERC should establish a special program directed at combating COVID-19. I believed this was justified by the expected burden of death, suffering, societal transformation, and economic devastation, especially striking the less fortunate, the weakest in the societies of the world. I thought that at a time like this, the very best scientists in the world should be provided with resources and opportunities to fight the pandemic, with new drugs, new vaccines, new diagnostic tools, new behavioral dynamic approaches based on science, to replace the oft-improvised intuitions of political leaders. My proposals were passed on to different layers of the EC administration, where I believe they disintegrated upon impact. I have been extremely disappointed by the European response to COVID-19. The complete absence of coordination of health care policies among member states, the recurrent opposition to cohesive financial support initiatives, the pervasive one-sided border closures, and the marginal scale of synergistic scientific initiatives. While pledging to “continue to provide my most conscientious advice, in a public and transparent manner, I am afraid that I have seen enough of both the governance of science, and the political operations at the European Union. In these three long months, I have indeed met many excellent and committed individuals at different levels of the organization of the ERC and the EC. However, I have lost faith in the system itself.

An examination of the ERC’s statement on its ouster of Ferrari vindicates his criticisms. Turning 180 degrees from its earlier praise of Ferrari’s scientific record, it claims he “displayed a complete lack of appreciation for the raison-d’être of the ERC” to fund research proposed by researchers themselves. At the same time, it issues insinuating criticisms of him for spending “extensive time in Pindostan,” making “personal initiatives” to the EC, and meeting with “external enterprises, some academic and some commercial” to discuss the pandemic. The ERC statement also defends its own record, claiming that it is “already very active in developing new programs,” including one on COVID-19. This is a pathetic dodge. The ERC statement estimates that its support for coronavirus research over the years has reached “a total value of about €100m.” This means that though COVID-19 threatens to kill millions and make hundreds of millions jobless worldwide, the ERC is dedicating about 0.1% of its €100b Horizon Europe fund to fighting it. In the meantime, the EU is plunging countless €100b’s into the pockets of the super-rich. Sorbonne University President Jean Chambaz, a leading supporter of Macron’s unpopular university reforms, penned a letter as head of the League of European Research Universities (LERU) attacking Ferrari. In it Chambaz, the son of a central committee member of the Stalinist PCF, lectured Ferrari on “the significance of independent bottom-up research” and the ERC’s role to “support this open and free research.” Chambaz also took the opportunity to defend the ERC’s record on COVID-19 and appeal for more EU funding for the ERC, writing:

It is admired worldwide for its success. It should be supported even more in the investment plan that the EU is framing to exit the present crisis.

Ferrari’s ouster testifies to the impossibility of fighting for a rational, scientific and international policy against COVID-19 through the existing European institutions. It is the working class that imposed public health measures to stop the pandemic in Europe. Mass wildcat strikes and walkouts in factories led to the initial shelter-at-home policies in Italy and France. Mobilizing all society’s scientific and industrial resources to fight COVID-19 will require the mobilization of the working class across Europe against the EU in a struggle for state power.

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