By Carmen Cano and EU Heads of Missions

Seventy-five years ago, Europe was crippled by the ravages of the Second World War. National economies were crumbling and the scars of genocide and human suffering left a trail of desperation across the continent. Yet, from widespread fear and uncertainty, Europeans overcame these challenges by uniting around a project of peace and solidarity, and the European Union was born.

Thanks to this unprecedented project, our continent has enjoyed its longest ever period of peace and prosperity. Every year, we commemorate the spirit and achievements of our unity on 9 May, Europe Day.

This year, Europeans are faced once again with a generational challenge and are called to renew their solidarity in fighting the global pandemic of Covid-19. There are no words that can do justice to Europe’s pain or to all those suffering across the world. Despite some initial shortcomings, we learned quickly and adapted to a pandemic of unexpected speed and scale.

Face masks arrived in Italy for healthcare staff. Photo: Council of the European Union, via Facebook.

The EU and its Member States have now created a common stockpile of medical equipment, mobilised €2.7 billion for emergency support and invested €140 million in emergency research for treatments and vaccines. Together, we have made our state aid rules more flexible than ever.

In more concrete terms, we have repatriated over 500,000 EU citizens, approved schemes that will provide 1 billion euro to Croatian businesses, 1.2 billion for Greek SMEs and 20 million to Portuguese fishermen, among others.

Member States are also supporting each other directly by dispatching their doctors and nurses, giving out masks, sending ventilators, and even welcoming patients for treatment.

Similarly, many of our companies mobilised to produce hand-sanitizer, respirators and masks, which are delivered all across Europe. Overall, Europe’s collective response will be well above 3 trillion euros. This is the most impressive response anywhere in the world.

In addition to funds and materials, it is obvious that to overcome this pandemic we need truth and solidarity. The truth about everything: the numbers, the science, the outlook, and the actions taken. Solidarity, because this virus shows us that we must protect each other to protect our loved ones, and ourselves.

European Elections. Photo: European Union in Hong Kong and Macao, via Facebook.

We pay tribute to doctors, nurses, care workers, drivers, food suppliers and countless other essential professionals in Europe and across the world, who are still in the frontlines of this pandemic. In Hong Kong as in Europe, these workers have selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to protect society at large.

This pandemic will pass, but our Union will only be as strong tomorrow as we make it today. Although this virus has engulfed us in tragedy, the swift solidarity of our confined citizens is uplifting.

This crisis will likely redefine our politics, our geopolitics and possibly globalisation itself. And in this new world, Europe will need to stick together through thick and thin. As the whole world will be trying to find its way back to recovery, Europe has an opportunity to emerge stronger and better.

We can create a Europe that is more resilient, sustainable, and that invests in our shared global future. No doubt this will be a long and complex road and it will require solidarity, trust and innovation.

The EU budget will be the decisive tool to launch the investments needed to rebuild the Single Market. We will not only support but also reshape our industries and services towards a new reality.

We will learn the lessons from this crisis to double down on the fight against global warming and invest in the European Green Deal. By transforming into a more modern and circular economy, we can escape the looming environmental catastrophe that would dwarf this global pandemic.

For Hong Kong, a strong and cohesive European Union means a solid and reliable partner. In 2019, the EU has been Hong Kong’s largest trade partner after China. EU-HK bilateral trade reached an all-time high in goods and services.

Likewise, Hong Kong is one of the EU’s top ten investments partners. Our relationship creates new opportunities for both sides through joint research schemes, academic programmes, exchanges in creative industries, and working-holiday schemes, among others.

Photo: European Union in Hong Kong and Macao, via Facebook.

The European Union and its Member States have proven to be good and loyal friends to Hong Kong people. Although 2019 was an exceptionally challenging year for Hong Kong, the peaceful conduct of the District Council elections was a testament to the importance attached by the people of Hong Kong to the exercise of their democratic rights.

We renew our commitment to contribute to Hong Kong’s success, which is entrenched in our shared allegiance to the rule of law, our shared devotion to freedom, and the strict adherence to the “one country, two system” principle.

Happy Europe Day!

Signed by the Head of the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macao, and the Consuls General of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Finland, and Sweden.

Guest contributors for Hong Kong Free Press.