In a devastating blow to the prestige of the United States, the European Union ruled Friday night that it would deny US citizens entry to Europe due to concerns over COVID-19. Shock and disbelief are mounting as the United States, the world’s wealthiest and most powerful country, continues to register by far the world’s highest toll in coronavirus cases and deaths, and the US government aggressively opposes health measures critical to stopping the pandemic.
With over 2.6 million cases and 130,000 deaths, the US has de-funded the World Health Organization (WHO) and repudiated confinement policies key to halting the virus. Even as COVID-19 is tearing through factories and working class communities, President Donald Trump is calling for a limit on testing. At an election rally last week in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he said: “When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases… So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’ They test and they test!”
Such comments, evincing utter contempt for the health and well-being of the public, are rapidly undermining Washington’s position overseas, with far-reaching implications.
EU officials presented a short list of countries where COVID-19 is not spreading any more rapidly than in Europe, and whose nationals are therefore allowed to enter the EU. These include Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, Rwanda, Thailand, Uruguay, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Georgia, Montenegro and Serbia. Chinese travelers are also to be allowed into the EU if Chinese officials allow European travelers into China. However, US citizens will not be admitted.
As the decision was being prepared, details of the discussions were leaked to the New York Times. It published a concerned article making clear that what was involved in this decision was far more than whether or not American tourists will be able to sight-see in Europe this summer.
Noting that the EU decision “would lump American visitors in with Russians and Brazilians as unwelcome,” the Times called it “a stinging blow to American prestige in the world and a repudiation of Trump’s handling of the virus in the United States.” However, the Times did not treat the matter simply as one of public health or wounded national pride. It added that such a decision “would have significant economic, cultural and geopolitical ramifications.”
In its article, the French daily Le Monde made clear that the EU had taken the decision, bucking US pressure, to send a signal. Without naming the United States, it wrote: “Will this decision have political consequences? While certain pressures were undoubtedly brought to bear and certain EU countries clearly had difficulty conceiving of banning certain nationalities, for economic, strategic and tourist reasons, a decision to make a ‘strong commitment’ was taken, diplomats said.”
What is driving the policy of Washington’s imperialist rivals in Europe is not primarily concern for the impact of Trump’s policies on the population’s health and well-being. They were, in fact, recklessly ordering tens of millions of European workers back to work amid the pandemic even as they took the decision to exclude US citizens from Europe. Rather, the pandemic is intensifying a ruthless struggle between the major powers for the division of profits in the world economy.
Washington’s response to the pandemic has consisted of multitrillion-dollar bailouts for the super-rich and contempt for workers’ health and lives. This spring, the Federal Reserve pledged to print trillions of dollars to be injected into the US banking system, while the US government borrowed more trillions to finance deficit spending to avoid taxing the wealthy. These bailouts sent US stock markets soaring, even as US economic activity collapsed and the pandemic spread.
These measures provoked visible anger from ostensible US allies in Europe. In London, Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman declared in an April 13 column titled “Coronavirus and the threat to US supremacy” that “the US response to coronavirus may test the world’s faith in the dollar.”
Rachman wrote: “The $2 trillion dollar stimulus package just passed means that the US national debt, which has already risen sharply in the Trump years, will surge still further. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet is also expanding hugely as it buys up not just Treasury bonds but also corporate debt. If a ‘Third World’ country was behaving like this, wise heads in Washington would be warning that a crisis lay just around the corner. There must be a risk that even the US currency will eventually lose the world’s confidence.”