Certainly, our experience with COVID-19 makes us reflect on how there can be a before and after an epidemic, not only from the point of view of the emergency response and of the measures taken by European governments, but also from the point of view of standards and of the social practices we were used to. If, for example, smart working is opening up more and more, it would be at the same time desirable to ask how epidemics have shaped the societies of ancien régime. This undoubtedly represents a first level of reading, which must be accompanied by that of the mobility of people and migration, not only as a possible cause of an epidemic but also, possibly, as a consequence. The European experience with the various plagues that have affected it, but also the answers to avoid the possible spread of an epidemic, such as the quarantine and the Mediterranean sanitary cordons that already in the modern age were put in place by different political realities, represent another topic of the European experience in the fight against epidemics. This is accompanied, of course, by the theme of forced migrations of ethnic and religious minorities, which could represent a further cause for concern about the possible spread of diseases, just as the sale of slaves and cautivos in the Mediterranean was an additional element of strong mobility within the Mare Nostrum.
As already mentioned, the economic dimension is a further aspect to be underlined, since the great epidemics not only cut the lives of thousands or millions of people, they also damage trade, with economies that are closing more and more and, as in the case of COVID-19, with the GDP of the European countries undergoing a sharp drop. Indeed, already Bernardino Ramazzini (1633-1714), personal doctor of the Duke d’Este in Modena, in his treatise On the Diseases of the Artisans (De morbis artificum diatriba, 1700 and 1713), showed the formation of an awareness of the bond between disease and society, economically based. In other words, the consideration of the disease as something that goes beyond the individual dimension of its sufferers and produces social effects and effects on the wealth and power of the states. Just today, April 9, 2020, the Eurogroup will meet (virtually) to decide the future of Europe, in a session that will be among the most dramatic of ever. The lives of about 450 million people will be conditioned by the decisions taken in a common session by the European governments and which will determine the future of our continent in a top-down manner. In any case, the pandemic has already caused the collapse of European GDP and the risk is that of witnessing a much worse social crisis than that of 2008. Millions of European citizens will lose their jobs and the tools put in place until now – of the sanitary, economic and welfare state types – seem inadequate to guarantee a serious response to this systemic crisis. If the ultraliberal economic policies put in place after the 2008 recession have already proved inadequate to face that crisis, is it not necessary to think about a change in the political and socio-economic paradigm?
If you would like to contribute to this debate, please send your blog post to firstname.lastname@example.org.