The European Union and the Strategic Stockpiling Issue: The Coronavirus Crisis Exposes a Key Capability Gap

By defense.Info

We have focused for some time on the importance for liberal democracies being much more cognizant of their supply chain dependencies and their need to have a smart resilience strategy.

The coronavirus crisis has certainly exposed the absence of such a strategy but at the same time highlights the need for such a strategy.

As we argue in our forthcoming book on the return of direct defense in Europe, there is a clear need for the European Union to focus its attention and resources in its role for the defense and security of the member states on infrastructure defense and supply chain resilience.

To date, the European Union has clearly failed to do this.

Perhaps in this crisis, it will leverage what it has been FORCED to do as the beginning of a policy process to, in fact, deal with this as a key task which the European states both individually and collectively can focus upon.

Certainly, the Finns have led and continue to lead the way in thinking about resilience and crisis management.

Perhaps one of the smallest states in Europe can be looked to for the intellectual leadership which larger states have abrogated.

An article by Eszter Zalan of the EUObserver published on March 20, 2020 highlighted EU actions during the current crisis.

The EU commission on Thursday (19 March) said it will set up a stockpile of face masks, intensive care equipment and other essential medical gear to tackle shortages in member states.

The move comes after EU countries at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak have faced shortages of crucial medical equipment.

“The world was very much caught by surprise by the force and speed of this virus,” EU commissioner for crisis management Janez Lenarcic told reporters.

From the new reserve the commission would direct supplies where they are most needed based on an “objective criteria”.

It is complimentary to another tool, the civil protection mechanism, where a member states in trouble can ask for help from other member states. Italy and recently Spain have called for help within this mechanism.

“We are all in this together, we have to work constructively and work on solutions,” Lenarcic said.

Under the new reserve plans, a member state has to volunteer to undertake a procurement, and purchase specific equipment.

That will be financed almost entirely by the EU (up to 90 percent), and then the member states are expected to host that bit of equipment, which will likely end up going to another member state.

The planned stockpile will include intensive care medical equipment such as ventilators, personal protective equipment such as reusable masks, vaccines and therapeutics, and laboratory supplies.

Lenarcic said “half a dozen” member states have expressed interest in participating in the scheme.

An EU official said the reserve could be operational already next week.

The initial EU budget of the stockpile is €50m, of which €40m will have to be approved by EU governments.

The commissioner said that there is “objective situation” globally, that there is a “prevailing scarcity of personal protection gear in EU and all over the world”.

The biggest producers are in China and Asia…..

To help Europe cope, China has offered to send 2.2 million masks and 50,000 testing kits to the EU, commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday….

It will be interesting to see whether the European states can see beyond this Chinese manipulation of a crisis which it indeed launched and get on with European production or shape a supply chain with other liberal democracies to shape a trusted supply chain.

As we noted recently:

Divergent responses to the crisis across the board in the global liberal democracies will challenge the ability to shape common solutions going forward.

The underlying conflict between the 21st century authoritarian powers and the liberal democracies has been accentuated and highlighted as well. With Putin having tossed out most NGOs from Russia as part of his consolidation of power, the absence of credible information within Russia makes trust in Russia’s ability to contribute to a global management of a pandemic virtually non-existent.

The Chinese government has elevated information obfuscation an art form during the current crisis. This situation raises fundamental questions about trust with regard to China which are rooted in their domestic system going forward. And certainly, the over reliance on Chinese supply chains, a subject to which we have dedicated many articles in the past few years, is highlighted as well.

But will the liberal democracies shape lessons learned and establish more reliable supply chains?

Will the liberal democracies shape more realistic working relationships with one another to have more resilient national capabilities shared across a shared sovereign space?