Since its discovery in late 2019, COVID-19 has spread to over 200 countries worldwide, officially being declared a pandemic on January 31, 2020. In the months following this declaration by the World Health Organization, countries have been forced to dramatically alter the ways in which they operate in order to slow the spread of the virus, ranging from shelter-in-place orders to mandating that people wear protective gear when outside their homes and adhere to strict social distancing practices. However, these measures have had varying levels of success depending on their geographical location. With countries like the U.S., Italy, and France being hit particularly hard by the virus, the need for countries to come together in solidarity has never been greater.
We want to particularly thank Hon. Jeh Johnson, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, H.E. Bernard Cazeneuve, former French Prime Minister, Hon. Angelino Alfano, former Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Susan Del Perico, Political Analyst at MSNBC, for graciously participating in and coordinating yesterday’s webinar.
If your question wasn’t answered during the live event, or if you’d like to be connected with the team of any of the speakers, Concordia Members can use the Concordia Connect service by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, if you were unable to attend the webinar, we invite you to watch the recording via the YouTube link below.
- In each democracy, COVID-19 has presented a dilemma for public sector officials. Minister Alfano noted that dictatorship is not the only threat to one’s freedom, and that untreated pandemics, too, hamper people’s freedoms. The challenge for public servants is in balancing the tension between preserving people’s safety from the virus and upholding their economic freedom. Secretary Johnson stated that the best way to resolve this dilemma is to come up with practical ways of measuring when the public health environment is safe enough for certain social and economic activities to resume. As highlighted by Prime Minister Cazeneuve, in France, this has been coupled with a wide array of mechanisms aimed at getting people through the worst of the crisis, such as solidarity funds for small businesses, safety nets for workers and businesses, and recovery funds.
- Multilateralism is critical for national responses to COVID-19 globally, and there is an important role for the U.S. to play in that imperative. Minister Alfano characterized cooperation on sharing best practices and comparing different potential therapies as should-be common sense forms of collaboration. On the role of the U.S., Secretary Johnson contrasted current U.S. unwillingness to cooperate multilaterally on COVID-19 with the effective global response to Ebola in 2014-2015, in which the U.S. played a leading, coordinating role. Given how hard the U.S. has been hit, Johnson warned that there will be temptations after the crisis to continue turning inward rather than forging a more collaborative relationship with Europe, as called for by Alfano and Cazeneuve.
- The COVID-19 crisis has shown a spotlight on the need for cooperation and coordination not only between nations, but within nations as well. For example, Secretary Johnson remarked that the unique nature of the U.S. political system, as compared to France and Italy, gives state governors significant authority on decisions of when and how to shut their states down or reopen. That said, the proximity of states to one another makes inter-state coordination critical, which is why seven states in the northeastern region of the U.S. have formed a working group to coordinate policy.
- The current COVID-19 crisis provides several lessons for how world leaders should approach other issues of global scale, such as climate change. Prime Minister Cazeneuve stressed the importance of viewing COVID-19 not as a one-time crisis, but as an example of what may happen again in the absence of effective international cooperation on future pandemics and climate change. It will be up to leaders from across sectors to imagine what the new world should look like. Relatedly, Minister Alfano emphasized the importance of listening to experts on issues like these so that preparations and adjustments are made before a crisis is knocking on the door. Analysts, scholars, and even television series have warned for many years of the risks of a pandemic, yet the world found itself unprepared nonetheless — even in Northern Italy, where public-private partnerships have contributed to a highly resilient healthcare system.
- Prime Minister Cazeneuve and Secretary Johnson underscored the need for “political change” to take effect through elections that usher in leaders who are dedicated to pressing forward international agendas for cooperation not just on pandemics like COVID-19, but on other global issues ranging from mobility to trade, climate change, and renewable energies. As argued by Minister Alfano, this will require courageous leadership given the delicate geopolitical situation and the way COVID-19 has accelerated longer-running changes in international relationships.
- Looking ahead to the global future of supply chains, Prime Minister Cazeneuve and Minister Alfano stressed the need for a European framework to manage the flow of critical materials and supplies in the future. The COVID-19 crisis has starkly illustrated how the U.S. and the E.U. are both heavily dependent on other countries — China, particularly — for these supplies. The task for policymakers will be to maintain openness of markets while ensuring basic national productive capacity of essential goods through new rules and effective regulation of globalization.
- The webinar was attended by over 120 people from across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, drawing from regions around the world.