Questions surround EU's response to coronavirus after science chief’s resignation

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The EU’s chief scientist, Mauro Ferrari, has fuelled doubts over Brussels handling of the coronavirus pandemic, by abruptly resigning just three months into the job.

Mr Ferrari, the president of the European Research Council (ERC), submitted his resignation on April 7 having begun his four-year term at the helm of the EU’s foremost scientific body at the start of the year.

The ERC has issued a response to the Italian-American scientist's statement saying it "at best is economical with the truth".

The council accused Mr Ferrari of failing to make time for his role as president and failing to understand the body's mission.

"During his three-month term in office, Professor Ferrari displayed a complete lack of appreciation for the raison-d’être of the ERC to support excellent frontier science, designed and implemented by the best researchers in Europe," the council said.

Nevertheless, Mr Ferrari's public criticism of Brussels is just latest in a series of body blows to the 27-member group which has found itself unravelled by the coronavirus crisis.

“I arrived at the ERC a fervent supporter of the EU [but] the Covid-19 crisis completely changed my views, though the ideals of international collaboration I continue to support with enthusiasm,” he told the Financial Times.

Mr Ferrari has said he was twice knocked back in his attempts to set up a special programme to fight Covid-19.

The coronavirus crisis, which has hit Europe harder than anywhere else in the world, has exposed chronic dysfunction at the heart of the EU. The opaque and inflexible bureaucracy in Brussels described by Mr Ferrari is just one of a number of existential problems.

The divergence between northern and southern EU members has been brought into stark relief as they wrangle over how to deal with the economic fallout from the Covid-19 crisis.

A 16-hour meeting of Eurozone finance ministers on Tuesday failed to resolve the standoff between nations like Spain and Italy which have called for a grand gesture from Brussels to restore faith in the EU.

More fiscally conservative nations like Germany and the Netherlands have, however, resisted. Polls in the northern nations have shown repeatedly that voters are unwilling to foot the bill for perceived southern profligacy.

It appears now that Italy and the Netherlands in particular are at loggerheads over whether conditions should be attached to providing funds through the European Stability Mechanism. Talks are set to resume on Thursday but the EU has been kicking the can down the road over the continent-wide bailout plan for weeks.

The Spanish government has highlighted the lack of trust that will result from half measures.

“We need the help of other countries, and that’s why the European Community was originally formed, at that time after a physical war, now we are fighting a war against an epidemic,” spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero said on Wednesday.

In Italy, the country’s powerful political right has already used the coronavirus crisis as a platform for its anti-EU message.

A nurse helps a patient using the Decathlon snorkeling face mask in the Covid-19 ward of the Maria Pia Hospital in Turin. AFP

US military personnel wearing face masks arrive at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, US. Reuters

A patient suffering from coronavirus uses a tablet to speak to a relative who is unable to visit, at the Cernusco sul Naviglio hospital in Milan, Italy. Reuters

Members of the cleaning staff disinfect a room at a hotel in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, which continues to operate despite the coronavirus pandemic. AFP

Neighbours celebrate the engagement of Juan Manuel Zamorano, 32, and Elena Gonzalez, 31, after she proposed to him at the balcony of their house in downtown Ronda, southern Spain. Reuters

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a report to committee members of the Lower House in Tokyo on April 7, 2020 before declaring a state of emergency. AFP

Elementary school students wearing face masks attend a class as they return to school after the start of the term was delayed in Huaian in China's eastern Jiangsu province. AFP

Signs made by prisoners pleading for help are seen on a window of Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois, US. Reuters

Giant pandas Ying Ying and Le Le before mating at Ocean Park in Hong Kong. Stuck at home with no visitors and not much else to do, a pair of pandas in Hong Kong finally decided to give mating a go after a decade of dodging the issue. AFP

A woman enters a shopping mall partially closed to combat the spread of coronavirus, in Bangkok. AFP

Children queue with their jerrycans to fill them with free water distributed by the Kenyan government at Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. AFP

Women shop at a market after the Peruvian government limited men and women to alternate days for leaving their homes, in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus, in Lima, Peru. Reuters

A police officer sprays disinfectant on a traveller outside Hankou Railway Station after travel restrictions to leave Wuhan were lifted. Reuters

A healthcare worker sits on the curb as he uses a vaping device while taking a break outside Maimonides Medical Center during the outbreak of coronavirus in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, US. Reuters

Medical workers from The First Bethune Hospital of Jilin University hug their Wuhan colleagues at the airport as they prepare to leave after the lockdown was lifted, in Wuhan, China. EPA

Employees of Suay Sew Shop make face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic in Los Angeles, California, USA. EPA

Former deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, the head of Italy’s far-right Lega party, said yesterday he did not have faith in EU loans wouldn’t beg for money from “loan sharks” in Brussels or Berlin.

Brussels' slow response to the coronavirus crisis in Italy has left a particularly bitter taste with Rome turning to a constellation of other nations such as Cuba, Albania, China and Russia in the face of its public health emergency.

On Tuesday the EU deployed a team of doctors and nurses from Romania and Norway through the its Civil Protection Mechanism to Milan and Bergamo to help Italian medical staff. Before the EU’s offers, France delivered two million face masks to Italy and Germany sent two dozen ventilators but the response was preceded by Paris and Berlin placing limits on ventilator exports as the crisis took hold in Italy.

In other areas, the EU has looked embarrassingly impotent while trying to make its mark on the crisis. The WHO has repeatedly warned about the spread of the coronavirus on the continent.

The European Commission was forced into a U-turn by national governments over plans to present a strategy for ending the lockdowns. European capitals complained the initiative sent completely the wrong message just at the moment they were trying to convince millions of citizens to stay at home.

Updated: April 8, 2020 07:15 PM

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