Analysis & Opinions

How People and Countries around the World are Coping with Coronavirus

| Apr. 28, 2020

A discussion between Project on Europe Fellow, Dr. Amanda Sloat, and Project on Europe Executive Director, Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook, on how people in different countries are weathering this crisis and the different policy questions that have been raised as a result.


Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Thank you for joining us early: U.S. time 8:30, middle of the day Continental European time. I'm Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook. I'm the Executive Director of the Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Gives me great pleasure to be here this morning with one of our Project’s Fellows, Dr. Amanda Sloat, who you will also know, is a Robert Bosch Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. She was before she reentered her stint in the think tank world.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Most recently, within government where she spent just nearly a decade. She was most recently the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean Affairs. So, in our global discussion today we'll talk particularly about that region as well. She dealt there with the U.S. relations with Cyprus, with Greece, and with Turkey. She also spent, as many of you will know, some time working in Congress of the U.S House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, where she was senior professional staff working on European policy. So before I say anything else on housekeeping please join me in welcoming Amanda Sloat. Good morning to you, Amanda, in Washington.

Amanda Sloat: Morning delighted to be joining you. And thanks to everybody for tuning in this morning.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Before we start our conversation, I just wanted to give you a couple of housekeeping rules or things that will help this conversation, I hope, go very smoothly. You will see that we have decided to record the seminar with Dr. Slope this morning, so if for whatever reason you would like your face, not to be captured by this recording, please turn off your video sharing capacity now.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: You'll be muted during the sort of roughly first half-hour of this conversation while Amanda and I kick our discussion off, but it is time for you to put any comments or questions you may have into the chat function which you'll find if you click under the little chat window next to participants on the bottom of your Zoom functionality. And then, of course, as we enter the discussion, we hope that we'll have about 40 to 45 minutes to have…put you in conversation with Amanda.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: We hope that you'll be able to join us live. You'll be able to unmute yourself and join that conversation. You can indicate that you have a question. You would like to join us in this conversation by pushing the raise hand function to the left of the bottom of the chat function. So, I'm hoping that at this point, a number of weeks into quarantine. We're all very aware with these functionalities. But I think they'll make our conversation run swiftly.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: I just want to say a quick hello to all of our other fellows who are on this call and also the Dean of Admissions of the Harvard Kennedy School, Matt Clemens. Matt, thank you for being up early and joining us in this conversation.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: We also have a number of our Project Fellows, both from the Future of Diplomacy Project and the Project on Europe with us this morning. Seth Johnston, Douglas Alexander, Alvaro Renedo, Karl Kaiser. Very pleased to see all of you in this conversation.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Amanda, we wanted to bring you on because you did something a little different than you might usually do in your policy analysis role at Brookings. You went on a global listening exercise a number of weeks ago, and you contacted people across the world just as things were beginning to heat up with respect to the growth curve, the spread curve, for the corona virus certainly in Europe. And things were becoming much more serious in this country. And you shared your findings in a longer Politico piece that had looked both at the serious implications, but also some of the cultural and almost anthropological differences.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: And I wanted you to talk a little bit about what you found there. There may be things that you didn't include in the text. But also, I know that you're working on another piece now across a lot of countries that’re really at the heart of things. Now, the curves are very high or they've reached their peak. We've seen in some cases in Europe, things have begun to flatten.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Asia, certain Asian countries are reopening for business. But we've seen that Singapore, for instance, has though universally praised for how it managed the crisis, is reporting a jump in numbers. And we've got this harrowing news out of the WHO earlier this week that having had the virus does not necessarily potentially make you immune. So, as you look from your perch in Washington out into the world, as you prep to write the second piece, what are you seeing that's remarkable? Both negatively or positively?

Amanda Sloat: Well, thank you very much, Cathryn, for moderating this and to everybody else for joining. I'm looking forward to the discussion. Yeah, the article that you're mentioning, I started reaching out and contacting people in mid-March, I think it was the first week that we were on lockdown here in Washington, DC. So, you know, some call it research. I think I saw it more as a good way of steadying my own nerves and really finding a useful opportunity to check in with a lot of friends around the world that I have either met through work or through travel .

Amanda Sloat: I even discovered two friends were sick with coronavirus at the time when I reached out to them to find out what was happening in their countries. The thing that I found particularly interesting about this from an anthropological perspective was that COVID really has been affecting everybody around the world. There certainly has been a lot of discussion in the US and elsewhere about the fact that it's not affecting people the same. Obviously we're seeing a lot of the socio-economic disparities.

Amanda Sloat: But on an international level, it is affecting everybody. You know, 911 was a particularly American experience. World War Two, you know, did not affect Africa, Latin America, for example. But what's been interesting about COVID is that it really is touching all corners of the world. And so it was an interesting opportunity to find out what people are doing that are similar and what people are doing that is different.

Amanda Sloat: One of the more humorous aspects of my piece and of the research was this great debate over toilet paper. Certainly for those living in the US, I think in Europe, a lot of the Western world there, there was this immediate focus on toilet paper and whether or not there were going to be shortages of it.

Amanda Sloat: And actually got some quite funny some replies from friends who are living in in countries that are much more used to using bidets who did not understand why you would want to stockpile large amounts of toilet paper when there were other solutions.

Amanda Sloat: And people living in places like Africa where either culturally or economically toilet paper simply was not used. So it was a good reminder that things that are a massive preoccupation for people in the US were not occupying people's minds the same way elsewhere.

Amanda Sloat: There was similarly looking, at people's use of masks. At that point in the US, it was not something that was widely encouraged. I think still in Europe, it's quite variable. But in countries like Asia. People were very accustomed to wearing masks. They have significant air pollution, and so it was something that people had already been wearing for quite a while to be able to combat that.

Amanda Sloat: Really seeing commonalities in terms of people losing access to their shared communal spaces. You know, in much of Europe, for example, it was pubs that were closing down. In the Middle East, it was hookah bars. In places like Asia, it was karaoke bars. It was public banyas and baths in Central Asia. And so, you know, each culture has their own specific gathering place, but people were really losing access to that.

Amanda Sloat: And then on the, again, the more humorous side, it was interesting to see what people were hoarding. And I think some countries were living up to their national stereotypes with the Greeks, of course, stockpiling Feta. You know, lots of different places people stockpiling different types of alcohol. And Denmark, there was concerns about yeast shortages very early on, which had happened 10 years prior in in other circumstances. And then also the sense of humor that was happening. I mean, each, each country was producing its own memes, its own jokes, its own TV shows, a lot of things moving online.

Amanda Sloat: Then starting to see a lot of conspiracy theories in different countries, and who people were blaming for the virus. You know, and in this country, we have the Trump administration wanting to refer to it as “the Wuhan virus.” In Africa, you even had the State Department in Ethiopia issue and travel guidance for non Africans who were coming because they were getting attacked, and there was an idea that white people were carriers of coronavirus because most of the cases in Africa had been brought in by foreigners. There was a perception in Afghanistan, for example, that this was something that was befalling infidels, and that this was not something that was native to Afghanistan.

Amanda Sloat: And so, you know, seeing people blaming very different sets of people for the virus as well. I think one of the things that was not happening at that time that is shifting a little bit is that Africa and Latin America were not particularly affected at the time, but we are now seeing cases spread there.

Amanda Sloat: And I think specifically in Africa, you've got a very different set of social circumstances, a very different way of people living where on one hand they were quite used to washing their hands because of Ebola, but on the other hand, social distancing just doesn't work in many communities there. People don't have the financial means to stockpile food. They are daily going to the markets.

Amanda Sloat: You've got a greater incidence of HIV-AIDS. And so, a much greater concern about their population getting affected which I think led to this fear of foreigners and also a very rapid shutdown of air transport to try and prevent foreigners or expats returning and bringing the virus.

Amanda Sloat: You look like you are muted.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Ah, wonderful. Okay, I'm back. Amanda, you're prepping the second round of that. And, you know, as you were looking just…and you just so aptly described…was sort of people's preparations. And now in so many countries, we're really in the thick of it.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: It's having various different effects, and we can talk about, and you've had plenty of seminars, of course, at the Kennedy School about how the effect that it's going to have on comparative public health systems. So if you want to weigh in on that, I would invite you to do so, but I wanted to ask you, you know, because you study, or you also look at the state and health of democracies around the world.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: We talked about how your prior focus area, certainly, was on Turkey, Eastern Europe, the Balkans and various other places. We're seeing in the beginning of the opening, lots of questions coming up now about how we balance the sort of restrictions that are dictated by public health with, you know, a respect for democratic values. And in countries where democracies are nascent, still fragile, or being renegotiated in some respects, like in Turkey. You know, that's having interesting effects, even in my own country, the open Germany.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: The opening or the relaxation of certain restrictions has meant that there is a protest culture reemerging that's all-around privacy and rights, and what does the democracy mean, and very vivid discussions in the op-ed pages of various newspapers. And we're getting to that discussion in this country as well with different rules applied and different interpretations of health data applied to how we might think about opening certain states or reopening certain industries.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: So again, as you look across the globe, as you prep the second piece, to what degree is that factoring into your thinking? And how do you see different societies grappling and reconciling with these critical issues?

Amanda Sloat: One of the most interesting things I found in the last couple days of emailing people is the debate over what to do with children. And I will give three examples that actually provide a pretty stark contrast. I heard from very frustrated friends who are mothers in Spain and in Colombia, where there have been very strict restrictions on children. In both countries, children have not been allowed outside the house since mid March. And so, you know, in Columbia, they are not supposed to be going to parks. In Spain, they were not supposed to be going outside. And so, you know, as difficult as it is to entertain children, generally, it's even harder to keep them trapped inside the house for literally four to six weeks.

Amanda Sloat: And so, that in those countries has been the biggest preoccupation for parents is wanting to be able to get their children outside not understanding why they can't. Sweden, then, it has been on the complete opposite side of that spectrum. Sweden has kept their elementary schools open the entire time. They closed their high schools. They closed their universities, but they had the opposite perspective which was that young children tend not to be vectors of this disease. That parents are still able to do work if their young children are at school. And I had friends tell me over the weekend that they had a colleague who did not feel safe sending her children back to school in the pandemic and the principal actually called after the child was absent for several days and said they were going to involve social services if they did not send their child to school because it was required that children go to school.

Amanda Sloat: So I think the perceptions of public health, of who is at risk, of what we do with children, has really has been one of the starkest things that that has come out. And that, of course, has spillover effects on the psychological wellbeing of the parents as well.

Amanda Sloat: The question of surveillance and privacy, I think is an interesting one. And I think it is going to be interesting in the next, you know, number of weeks and months. I think years that we're grappling with this to really see the perspective that people have and how the public debate unfolds. You know, in some ways, that reminds me of the conversation we had in the US after 911 where we had the Patriot Act, where there was a large number of restrictions put on people. You know, we all take our shoes off now, when we're going through the airport.

Amanda Sloat: And this question of how much of their civil liberties people are prepared to give up in the name of security. And I think you're starting to see that same debate happen now in terms of how much of your civil liberties people are prepared to give up in in the name of health. You know, one of the things I found interesting you know with 911 and the aftermath, and then dealing with this when I was in the State Department, is we would have a lot of conversations with European countries about wanting to do more information sharing, particularly around the issue of foreign fighters (people leaving Syria, passing through Turkey, and heading into Europe).  

Amanda Sloat: There was a lot of concern in Europe about not wanting to share information, not wanting to share specific data. And that attitude really changed in France in particular after the terrorist attacks in Paris. That there's suddenly was a newfound recognition of the security concern which made them more willing to share information than they necessarily had before.

Amanda Sloat: And what I found interesting with the COVID crisis is that, you know, some of those countries, including France, that have had some of those concerns on security, were actually being much more forward leaning now in terms of tracking.

Amanda Sloat: I mean, you've had, I believe, Italy, Belgium and France, among others that are requiring people to produce these auto-certificate forms that they carry whenever they leave the house explaining where it is they're coming from, where they are going, and the purpose that they are outside.

Amanda Sloat: So, it not only gives people documentation to show the police, but it also gives the government a large database of information on where people are moving. Which in some of these countries, it's quite a sea change from where they were a couple of years ago on this idea of information sharing.

Amanda Sloat: And I find a lot of the reaction of people in different countries ends up relating to how much trust they actually have in their government. In Israel, for example, the government has been extremely forward leaning on tracking people, on use of cell phone data, on use of surveillance. And what I've heard anecdotally from friends there is, you know, a lot of this was already happening anyway because the threat from elsewhere in the country and in the region. And so, there was an acceptance of that.

Amanda Sloat: South Korea has also been very forward leaning in terms of doing that. But I think there's other countries where there's just not a ready acceptance of that degree of tracking. The last thing I will say, and this I think is the biggest factor that's changed from 911, is people are now quite comfortable giving large amounts of data to private companies.

Amanda Sloat: Anybody who's on Facebook is already sharing a large amount of information. There was a graphic that came out a couple weeks ago where a private company look that the cell phones of Spring Breakers on one particular beach in Florida, I think for Lauderdale, or somewhere.

Amanda Sloat: And then it tracked where all of those cell phones left, when those people finished spring break, and returned home. And, you know, sort of almost this heat map of people spreading out across the country. Which if you see that, shows how much data these telephone companies already have about where you are and where you're going.

Amanda Sloat: Somebody also told me yesterday that there was a recent study that came out that said one of the best predictors of the numbers of affected people is looking at who is Googling “what are the symptoms of COVID?” “Is it allergies or is it COVID?” and looking at where they are geolocated.

Amanda Sloat: You know, because then you've got people that are essentially self-identifying to Google as having some sort of symptoms. So I think the nature of the debate has changed somewhat given the large role that private companies already play in terms of holding vast amounts of information on us.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: So, I mean, to what degree then do you think that all this sort of nascent discussion about how we regulate that data? I mean, are we already, have you already stepped over the cusp? And I know that data privacy is not necessarily your area of expertise, but just in this as you’re sort of highlighting these comparative differences and also these cultural differences in terms of understandings the proclivities of how you know, different countries, different nationalities…we have that split in the transatlantic relationship very clearly in terms of how we understand data and privacy. Something that was negotiated internally to the European Union, and then ended up with pretty stringent privacy regulations, that conversely, then influenced the rest of the world.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: To what degree is that a battle that's going to be sort of drawn out? Or is it going to be just tampered by the fact that these public health emergencies are so vivid right now? Or this is such a vivid crisis, that's just going to overtake the public narrative for a while? And then how do we come back institutionally? Is that something that happens in the transatlantic spheres as a global discussion in terms of regulating data, working with or clamping down on companies that have that data?

Amanda Sloat: I mean, I suspect this is a debate that's going to be with us for a long time to come. And I think as with much things related to technology, the technology is going to move faster than our moral or ethical debate is able to keep up with it. You know, you're already seeing these conversations about, you know, some sort of immunity passport, about people's temperatures being checked before they go into the grocery store.

Amanda Sloat: You know, I think it's going to be a question as countries reopen. I mean, one thing I wonder is, you know, when am I even going to be able to go to Europe again? Or if you're an African country, and you don't have that many cases, you're not going to want people coming in from China, from Europe from the United States, where there's very large numbers of cases.

Amanda Sloat: You know, this obviously gets complicated with this immunity passport idea if you know as, you I think were saying earlier that WHO was suggesting that just because you had at once doesn't necessarily mean that you're immune from having it again.

Amanda Sloat: But I think as people are clamoring to get back to work and to get back to normal, there's going to have to be some sort of way of regulating some of that. And, you know, whether or not, you know, I suspect, people are almost going to have no choice with some of these things, but to submit to having their temperatures taken before they go to different places.

Amanda Sloat: You know, which is hugely invasive and it's something that would have been completely unthinkable even, you know, sort of a month or two ago. You know, I think a more, you know, so I, you know, I can envision people being comfortable with the idea of the temperature being taken in a very situational way.

Amanda Sloat: You know, but whether people are going to be comfortable, for example, with this idea of having an app on their phone that enables contact racing…So if you were in you know my local Safeway at four o'clock on Saturday and tested positive and I was also there, I would get an app informing me that I'd come into contact with somebody who was in the same location as me and that I know needed to quarantine.

Amanda Sloat: You know, on one hand, I think is going to make people feel incredibly uncomfortable. On the other hand, if you look at that heat map of Spring breakers and Fort Lauderdale, it's very clear that private companies already have the capacity to do this.

Amanda Sloat: You know, the question I guess will be, you know, as was the case with 911 are we going to move so far in one direction as an immediate overreaction to the crisis that we then end up pairing some of that that stuff back?

Amanda Sloat: But I do think the degree to which big tech companies already have so much of this data and even more in some ways than the government does that it's going to be impossible to put the genie back in the bottle in a lot of these cases.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: I'm sure those that will come up as another item in our discussion, and I want to go ahead and open to that in just a couple minutes now. But over the past year and a half, and in particular but over the entire Brexit process, which of course has been incredibly prolonged now, you have really become, you know, the, I think, most vital American voice explaining Brexit to an audience here, but in some cases also explaining Brexit back to people in the United Kingdom. And I see this Alexander nodding fervently as I say this.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: So Monday, the Prime Minister returned to work, so just we want to shift a little to the UK. Boris is back at work, and you talked about the Swedish example which, you know, sort of kept things open and functioning for a while. The UK is one of those examples that sort of switch strategies a couple of weeks in, and so I'd want you to kind of reflect on what worked there and what didn't work in that particular example.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Now that the UK is effectively, at least in this transition period, out of the Union. And then I want you to, if you could, talk about what that does for coordination particularly on the disease with the UK and Europe. And then of course, we have you here, so we need to talk about what this does to the Brexit negotiations. And I know that there's been plenty of talk going on that maybe has not made as much as the headlines as dealing with this pandemic, and but there's talk. And what does that mean for the deadlines? What does that mean for how we move ahead with a divorce process?

Amanda Sloat: Yes, all roads in my life, eventually lead back to Brexit. Let me say a couple things about the UK one. You're correct that the UK really was an outlier from a lot of Europe and the way it initially responded to the COVID crisis.

Amanda Sloat: What I found interesting about the UK response is, you know, it wasn't just sort of Boris Johnson doing some crazy populist approach. I mean, it actually was based in science. And if you look at what was happening across a lot of Europe, people were talking to scientists and they were using scientists to make their decisions.

Amanda Sloat: I mean it's the same thing in Sweden. The thing that was interesting in the UK was they had scientists that were advocating and different approach from what others were. And they had a focus that was much more based on behavioral science. Initially, and they were looking at two things. One was this idea that people were going to get fatigued with the idea of social distancing if they imposed restrictions too early.

Amanda Sloat: And that at the moment when you started to near the peak of cases is the moment at which people would start to get tired of staying home and want to be going out. And certainly as one, as I'm sure everybody on the screen can agree,  you know, that's now been home for four or five weeks, like it's starting to get boring. I'm starting to get a bit sick of it.

Amanda Sloat: And so it's now the place that you know in some places, including D.C., we need to flatten the curve that people need to stay home. But after doing this for over a month it's becoming a little tedious. So, I think from a behavioral science perspective, there was merit to that approach, but obviously it has its risks.

Amanda Sloat: Second, they were very much focused on this idea of herd immunity, and you had the government scientific advisor coming out early in the crisis saying that ideally they wanted to have about 60% of the population get a little bit sick and develop immunity to this.

Amanda Sloat: You know, and I've heard even for people in Denmark, for example, there's concern that they didn't have enough widespread cases to build up enough immunity within the population. So again, I think there is some merit to that argument. The problem is that you would have to accept a fairly large number of people getting sick and dying, and especially people with underlying health conditions.

Amanda Sloat: So that assumption was based on some pretty significant premises that would have implications for the public health of your population. But that at least was guiding the approach. And then you started to have political pressure from, you know, a number of opposition parties, from people at large from people looking at what was happening in in Europe. And then things started to shift, and then a lot of the very similar social distancing restrictions that we saw in other European countries were being put into place in the UK.

Amanda Sloat: And then, of course, we have the Prime Minister getting sick. You know, and I, my sense is there was sort of mixed attitudes on that. Obviously, nobody wished him ill, and it is a very serious situation especially when you don't have an entirely clear succession plan of leadership to lose your Prime Minister. The fact that he had been in a hospital, and then later on, speaking about the fact that he had been shaking hands with people who were sick with COVID raised some eyebrows. And I think it was not entirely unexpected that he ended up getting sick as a result of that.

Amanda Sloat: But all the reports suggest that he actually was very seriously ill, and now with him back at work, It'll be interesting to see how that truly near death experience ends up affecting the way that he approaches opening the country up perhaps later than what he may have initially expected.

Amanda Sloat: In terms of…so the UK is now extended its current restrictions for another three weeks. So, those are continuing. So it's starting to have a debate about reopening, but it's not happening on the date that the government had initially set on these restrictions were put into place.

Amanda Sloat: On the question of Brexit, you know, it is showing the fact that there needs to be mechanisms for coordination between the UK and the EU. You know, a virus is a perfect example of this. Viruses don't respect to national borders, and even if the UK is outside the European Union, people are still traveling, things are still moving, and there was a need to address that situation.

Amanda Sloat: The UK had pulled out of things like the European Medicines Agency. The health minister, of course, there's no longer participating in European Council meetings on joint decisions. And so it is opening up a bas... there's a big political debate about whether the government didn't participate in a program on masks and vaccines because it was a political decision to stay out of the EU.

Amanda Sloat: Or as the government is now suggesting, they simply missed the email that asked them if they wanted to participate in this program. But it really is heightening some of these questions. The big debate on  Brexit is: the UK is now out of the European Union (that happened on January 31), but for the rest of this year, they are still subject to EU rules, are subject to EU benefits, and they're supposed to be negotiating a free trade agreement. And the idea is that all of that needs to be put in place by the end of the year.

Amanda Sloat: The negotiators were only able to meet once at the beginning of March. You then have the Brexit negotiator on the EU side gets sick with coronavirus. The UK negotiator tested positive.  And then the British Prime Minister was incapacitated. And so, there needs to be a decision about whether or not they're going to try and ram this through this year, or whether they can ask for an extension.

Amanda Sloat: They can sort out an extension before July 1, after that they are not supposed to be requesting in an extension according to the way the rules are currently written. And the extension can be granted for one to two years. Boris Johnson has never wanted there to be an extension to the transition period. He was so firm on that, that he included it in the domestic implementing legislation for Brexit that was passed. So, he tied his own hands on something that he did not want to do anyway. So, for the country to request an extension, they would first need Parliament to come back and amend the legislation to do so.

Amanda Sloat: I think any of the paths have a certain amount of risk. I think even if they are able to reach a deal, the government's own measures say that there will be a hit to GDP because companies are going to have to adjust to the new mechanisms.

Amanda Sloat: If they don't have a deal, then they would leave and return to WTO trading rules which is going to create a second economic shock, potentially, when the country is in the middle of a post-COVID recession. Or, they extend the transition period, which would require the UK to have to pay some money into the EU budget next year.

Amanda Sloat: So it is not a decision that needs to be made, you know, in the middle of April, and they are trying to resume negotiations, but we are rapidly approaching the deadline for this and some decisions are going to have to be made.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: So we've already touched on leadership decisions and, you know, that pushes me over to thinking about because you mentioned the WTO, you mentioned these trade issues, you mentioned the EU budget, which is now possibly going to get a lot more heft if, you know, the discussions from the last European Council meeting on April 23 actually move forward.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: It's an interesting time because suddenly sacred cows are being offered on the proverbial negotiation table in Brussels and the way that previous crises have not allowed them, at least to be put up for discussion.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: So before we leave sort of that direct realm of the EU and European issues, I wanted to ask you to reflect a little bit on the leadership capacities as you see them in Europe now. We have, you know, we have a couple of very forthright people including President Marcon, who both in his Financial Times interview the long weekend interview from a couple of weeks ago, and more recent Economist piece was profiled as a visionary with no place to go. And we have Angela Merkel, who has been widely praised for the way that she as a scientist and as sort of the rational mother of the nation, has been able to contain the population in their potential desires to reopen and get outside (at least enough now that that is that is happening now), but at least enough to where Germany has sort of become the parade piece among the European examples.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: But again, she's on her way out in 2021, Macron is embattled at home. In a previous seminar, our fellow Julian Howorth, who’s on the line pointed out again that, you know, Union protesters in France do not rest. The yellow vests in France do not rest and are plotting again to make their voices quite vocally heard the minute they can more vociferously and in person get back out on the streets.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: So he remains somewhat embattled at home. And then there are other interesting figures across the European landscape that might merit a little bit of comparative reflection, so Europe, actually, I find, kind of remarkably begins to put a number of different things on the table to insulate the economy, ensure physical security.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Who stands out to you? What approach stands out to you? And do you feel that there is also renewed pan-European ethos emerging among the European leaders?

Amanda Sloat: It’s such an interesting question. I mean, in some ways, it sort of reinforced, a lot of what was already there. Right. I mean, your description of all of those leaders was a description that you probably could have made six months ago, right? I mean that Macron was the big visionary, but it was very embattled at home.

Amanda Sloat: Merkel is seen as the very steady hand, and yet is on her way out. We have continued democratic backsliding and places like Hungary and Poland, which has only increased during this crisis, especially with the emergency order that Hungary put in place and the very limited response by the European Union.

Amanda Sloat: The UK on its way out and still unclear how it's going to coordinate. So some of this, I think, has simply reinforced some of what was already happening. I mean, thus far, I have not seen a huge amount of pan-European unity on some of these things. And I think the initial response really has underscored the focus the return to national level and Member State level.

Amanda Sloat: I mean, in the very early days of the crisis, we had countries like Germany and others not wanting to export medical equipment we had countries, closing their national borders which sort of calls into question the Schengen system, we had this whole debate over coronabonds, which was again reinforcing differences of opinion in terms of how finances should be shared within the Union.

Amanda Sloat: So again, to me, it's sort of reinforces this idea that there is something like coronavirus which is a transnational threat and yet the initial instinctive response continues to be at the Member State level. I mean, health, obviously, is not an EU competence, there have been some steps towards finding greater ways to deal with the situation economically (slightly different from what countries that were not Germany and the Netherlands wanted).

Amanda Sloat: But you know it again raises some of these questions of how the EU actually functions when it comes time for a crisis. I mean you and I think we're talking before we started recording this about NATO. And NATO, actually, there has been some greater solidarity, there's been delivery of supplies.

Amanda Sloat: So NATO has operated more effectively in terms of a burden sharing and redistribution mechanism than what we have seen within the European Union.

Amanda Sloat: I mean, there were some people during the current coronabond crisis actually suggesting that this can be existential for the Union. That if this was not resolved, it could end up creating significant problems.

Amanda Sloat: So, you know, I think there's been this Members State level…and, you know, and then you've also then had the subnational level. I mean, you've had the German lender, for example, taking different positions. You've had Scotland in the UK taking different positions on some things.

Amanda Sloat: So, you know, for me at this point it's less about what's happening at EU level and it's more about what's happening at Member State level and also what's happening even at the subnational level.

Amanda Sloat: So the question that is going to be, you know, I mean, I think, for the last, you know, 40 years we've had the “wither the EU?” question, and this sort of provides yet another opportunity to have that debate.

Amanda Sloat: But whether there is an effort to try and reverse this and to come up with a more collective response or if this really is just going to undermine some of these broader aspirations and sort of force a return to the EU as much more economically based  trading system which ironically is the type of the EU that the UK is always wanted. But, by this point, the UK itself will be out.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: While I have long said that the irony of Brexit is that they leave just as they fully achieved the objective of making the European Union institutionally week and geographically large such that it is hard to rein in.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: And I think, Amanda. You've done a perfect job of just highlighting how difficult this is going to be, and how, at least, even if we get to, and I've just written a wildly optimistic piece for a joint program initiative that we have projecting that the Europeans will in fact get it together, but I think you're absolutely right, they will have to quote unquote you know, join the forces and be wildly original through the lens of the executive, because I think what you've rightly pointed out that this is not necessarily at the time of the European Commission or the institutional structure. It is time of the European executive and the European executive at least, you know, in functionality remains the European Council, remain the Heads of State and Government.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: And that's part of the reason I wanted to probe you on that leadership question because the kind of energies it's going to take to really begin to, you know, in some cases, rip up the playbook, frankly, and really be wildly courageous and original but functional. I do think that the crisis lends itself to doing at least some of that.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: If people don't get sucked back into a lot of their national narratives and the things that then might increase their chances for an election or reelection in their own countries. And those are always the things that need to be balanced in the European discourse, which is to say pan-European interest versus national and electoral stories and narratives at home.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: But my wildly optimistic instinct, or maybe it's just wishful thinking, is that this in fact is such a crisis, and you've pointed to other crises in the past that have had quite dramatic effects on again how we live our daily lives, but also how we manage our political systems.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: That this could, in fact, you know, really spur things in a positive direction to where, my viewpoint can pull the rest of the transatlantic relationship alone, but perhaps…

Amanda Sloat: Let me just add on that so I'm not overly picking on the Europeans. I mean, I think it's also been fascinating in the United States to watch this debate between federal level and state level. And I mean the locus of action really has moved to governors in the US. And I've been surprised to discover this feeling of state pride in the US, which I hadn't quite realized existed.

Amanda Sloat: I mean, people saying, you know, “we in Montana are very different from people in New York.” Right, so it's not even just sort of people in Europe being like, well, Germany's different from Greece. It's like “we are Montana. We are Wyoming. We are wide open. We want to get. We want to get back to work.”

Amanda Sloat: You know, Governor Newsom in California referred to California as a nation-state, which I'm not quite sure in a social science sense what he meant by that. But I mean, for me, the most striking example was when this cruise ship was stuck off the southern coast of Florida, and the governor of Florida came out and said he didn't want to let those people in because they weren't Floridians.

Amanda Sloat: So it's not just a case of, you know, we don't want all those foreigners coming in, but we actually had people in Florida not wanting to take in fellow Americans because it was going to overburden the hospital system of Florida. You know, we, in the US are certainly not free from very localized thinking in response to this as well.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Well, there are many examples. And for the Europeans who haven't been following that closely, we, of course, also had the governor of the smallest state in the Union, the Governor of Rhode Island, tracking New Yorkers to the front door of their vacation homes ordering them with the powers, the small state powers that she had, to quarantine, etc. So now it has been. I mean for people who study sub national government and how it relates to the nation state and how that relates to the bigger international game in which we find ourselves, it's been certainly a fascinating time. And that will continue…

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Seth Johnson, who is also a Fellow in our Europe program, and then I have already a couple of hands coming up to the right of my screen. So please, if you'd like to join the discussion now, use the raise hand function or send us a chat. Seth asked over here on chat, and I'll just read this question to you, Amanda, because it gets to your frame of analysis and comparison. When you're talking about behavioral changes, we talked about changes in public health. We talked about the political shifts.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: What do you think are some of the best historical analogies, or are there any historical analogies that people have told you in as you sort of scattered around the world? What are they making reference to you mentioned 911. In my life, I think of Chernobyl as the only other time in my life that I've experienced anything akin to lock down. But is it SARS? 911? 1918? The Spanish flu?

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: What are people saying to you? Is there anything that compares? Or is this really such a predictable surprise, something so drastically new that it that it bears out comparison?

Amanda Sloat: I think people's responses to the crisis really has been driven by national and historical experience, and I talked about this a little bit in in the article in March. In Bosnia, for example, people lived through the siege of Sarajevo and a very devastating war in the 90s. And so, there, people were used to hunkering down at home and stockpiling food and not going out. Because at that time, if you went out, you could get shot by a sniper.

Amanda Sloat: And so, a friend of mine said you know her mom in Bosnia had been stockpiling food since the case broke out in China because there was an awareness that that this was coming, and it could potentially happen.

Amanda Sloat: An Iraqi friend of mine said something very similar in Iraq that they had had so much conflict, so much instability, that in his family, they were always stockpiling food. I mean, he said, for example, you know, his dad would not go to the store and buy, you know, like a package of, you know, ground beef. They would have an entire cow stored in the freezer. They would buy 60 pound bags of rice, not one pound bags of rice.

Amanda Sloat: So, when the crisis broke out, his mom, I think, you know, bought some extra batteries and, you know, maybe some extra small things, but they had already stockpiled a large amount of food because that's simply was the way they had been living in Iraq during this period of conflict.

Amanda Sloat: Interestingly, I found a friend in Iran say the exact opposite. Which is their national experience was that there was sufficient amounts of food during times of conflict. And so people there were not stockpiling. A Lebanese friend of mine said that a saying going around in Lebanon was “we had 20 years of civil war and never once did we run out of toilet paper.” And so people there were not hoarding.

Amanda Sloat: People in Soviet countries, for example, are used to going shopping with bare shelves and needing to cook based on the ingredients that are available rather than necessarily the ingredients you envisioned in whatever recipe that that you had in mind. In some of the Caucuses countries (in Azerbaijan and Georgia), people were not stockpiling food immediately, but they were trying to get hard currency.

Amanda Sloat: They were wanting to ensure that they had dollars, rather than money necessarily in the local currency because they were afraid of a significant devaluation. Friends, this weekend in Sweden told me that there has not been heavy handed enforcement by the army or by the police because they had a very negative experience with that in the 1930s, and it is not something that they would want to replicate.

Amanda Sloat: So, you know, I think in terms of the way individuals are responding to this, it makes sense that you're going to do what makes sense to you. And what makes sense to you is going to be what you or your parents did in response to whatever the closest situation was.

Amanda Sloat: And so, I did find that in the way people were stockpiling food, their anxiety levels about this, their willingness to comply with government rules, their willingness to tolerate a heavy hand and government response, really was affected by whatever previous challenging period they had lived through.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: So this Douglas Alexander, who's also on the line and Fellow with us in our Future of Diplomacy Project asked question that Piggy, Piggy backs off of that, and connects to the question that we had before and sort of asked you to take a slightly wider aperture even.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Who do you think are the leaders who kind of…because you've spoken to fear, you've spoken to national sentiment, you've spoken to sort of anthropological proclivities part of human nature. Who's been managing all those competing pieces best in your mind in terms of national leadership? There's been a big set of now, more recently, a lot of articles on how female leadership seems to shine in this crisis.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: And we have a study from Temple University that says, oh, yes, that matches up with the research because if there's a very specific problem that has a very specific outcome that you want a woman to tackle than that is widely accepted societally so that the research that seems oh that tracks.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Where are the standouts in national leadership? Does gender even…I’m adding the gender point… Sorry, Douglas. Does that even figure in in your mind? Or are there other qualities capacities of national leaders? Who are the breakout leaders that you have seen?

Amanda Sloat: You took my initial point with the gendered response because yeah, I mean, there are, there have been articles about that. And I think it is true that in in cases that that have female leadership,  there has been competence in response. So, you know, New Zealand, for example, has been responding very effectively. Merkel as, as you pointed out, people have been happy with.

Amanda Sloat: You know, in Finland, you've got a female headed government. So, certainly in places where governments are headed by women, I think they're there has been a degree of success. Really I think it's ended up being affected in some places by the degree to which people trust their government and that the government is communicating openly about what is happening. That the government is seen to be relying on science and that there's been explanations of the measures that are taken.

Amanda Sloat: But in Denmark, for example, this was a conversation that I had this weekend. The government was very quick to shut everything down. Denmark was the first country to close its borders, they imposed a lot of social distancing measures very quickly. And people were supportive of that. But you know, I think as a lot of countries are finding this whole debate about needing to reopen is becoming much more complicated. And so, you have a huge amount of political infighting in Denmark right now over how to reopen, what to reopen, when should things be reopened, and what categories of things.

Amanda Sloat: In the US, of course, there is not a high degree of trust in the government. There is not a high degree of trust in the information that people are being given, and that's creating a lot of challenges. I think in someplace like Poland, you know, there's a big debate over whether or not to go forward with presidential elections in May. And I think there's perceptions of a power grab there. I think in Hungary, there's perceptions of a power grab with this state of emergency.

Amanda Sloat: So I think the countries that have done the best are the ones where the government has been able to give a very clear rationale for what's happening and has been very transparent in their communications. And I think that that certainly is has happened in a lot of these countries where governments have been headed by women, and where there is a high degree of public trust in government.

Amanda Sloat: You know, there's also a broader debate, I think, going on about, you know, whether authoritarian governments are better place to handle this than democracies are. Certainly, you know, with authoritarian governments, it's very easy for them to be able to lock down places and impose restrictions on people. But what I found in the last couple of days talking to people, you know, the mentality of people also is affected by this. You know, in the UK, for example, I think, you know, the government sort of made a lot of polite requests and people have, you know, sort of a greater sense of social shame and comply with some of these things out of a degree of societal obligation.

Amanda Sloat: A friend in Malta told me that, you know, if people were asked to have tracking apps, you know, they would tell the government to shove it because that's simply not their culture. In Bosnia, because of the war experience, people respond in a certain way. So I do think that national culture and the historical experiences of people living there are also a factor. So I think it is communication by the government, trust in government and public institution, and then also sort of the cultural mentality of people living in some of these societies is a factor as well.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: And before I turn to Alvaro, I can't resist this question because word here in the United States and Archon Fung, our colleague from the Ass Center has made the prediction in a series of political essays that Politico essays that I recommend to all of you, where they've asked leading figures to think along their lines of work what this pandemic could mean.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Archon argues there that despite the fact that we've now had multiple decades of sort of defunded government (widely spoken in this country in the United States), that now's the time the government is going to return. This is a bit of a self-serving question for all the Kennedy School students on the line.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Um, you know that now is the time where people are actually clamoring not only for leadership and that's a critical component. You've spoken about the roles of the governors in restoring faith in processes and functions. But now's the time to reup. We're going to see a rise of government again in this country. Is that, do you think that can happen, culturally, given that it's been decades upon decades of dismantling?

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: And then also changing the narrative about government to where on the one hand, we have the discussion about the deep state and, on the other hand, we need a bare bones government to function to get us through this this crisis.

Amanda Sloat: So it was a question for me or that was it for Alvaro?

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: It’s a question for you in terms of looking at this country. Will we see a return of government writ large? Big, bigger government?

Amanda Sloat: I mean I, you know, I think we have so far. Last night I was walking around the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C., which was also a good reminder of the way government really stepped in at a time coming out of the Great Depression, you know, a lot of the social systems that we have in place now are things is that came out of a period of national crisis. And it has been pretty extraordinary, you know, especially, to watch a republican led government that was trying to dismantle Obamacare and a lot of the social mechanisms now either supporting are being forced to support know paycheck provisions coming out of congressional legislation. Giving sending 1200 dollars to citizens. Right? I mean, this was something Andrew Yang was talking about during the campaign that everybody thought seems sort of crazy.

Amanda Sloat: And now the IRS is mailing checks, you know. That small businesses are getting loans. That the government essentially is becoming a nationalized health service at least for people that need to be tested for COVID.

Amanda Sloat: And I think once people get used to having a certain amount of social benefit, it's very difficult to repeal that. We've seen republicans like Marco Rubio again putting forward very robust economic packages. And so, no. I mean, I, we really are in an era of bigger government and I think a lot of this is coming back. And I think once some of these things are in place, as we saw with some of the stuff that came out of a previous periods of difficulty in the United States, it's difficult to roll that back.

Amanda Sloat: You know, so I think Bernie Sanders is perhaps having a bigger lasting legacy on the way some of our political and economic policies are playing out than anybody would have imagined a couple of months ago.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Again, somewhat self-serving question to all of our Kennedy School students on the line, who are now looking for jobs that are not maybe immediately visible, but Amanda, and I think others at the Kennedy School who look at the development of government over the longer arc, I think, hopefully, right in that we're going to need more people who have vested credentials and good public policy.

Amanda Sloat: And that was the other part of your question you have that I had forgot that I was going to respond to. And certainly would say this to all the students online, I mean, I hope that this current moment is giving people a greater sense of the possibility of government. You know, I think it was Ronald Reagan's words that you know sort of the words that would strike the most fear in somebody's heart are, you know, “I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.”

Amanda Sloat: But I think people are actually seeing now that government can play an important role. You know, I think everybody loves Dr. Fauci and recognizes a lot of the great work that he and his colleagues at NIH and CDC are doing. We do have a lot of staff working hard at the IRS and labor sending out these checks.

Amanda Sloat: You know members and staff and Congress have been incredibly busy passing legislation and developing these economic relief packages. The State Department, which has been one of the most unfairly maligned institutions during the Trump administration, we've had foreign service officers working around the clock to repatriate Americans that have gotten stuck behind national borders.

Amanda Sloat: So I do hope that some of this gives students the idea that government actually does matter and that there is important work to be done even if you don't agree with some of the policies of the government.

Amanda Sloat: You know, I think we've also seen in previous moments, the way that historical trends end up affecting what students study. Right. I mean, for many people that went to university in the 80s, everybody was studying Russian. We were in the middle of the Cold War.

Amanda Sloat: You know, then in the 90s, people were switching to Asian languages. There was talk about some of the Asian Tigers, the rise of China, of people wanting to prepare for that. Following 911, people were switching to Arabic, they were joining the intelligence community. They were signing up for the military. And it may be that we have a generation coming out of this of people that are focused on public health, that are doctors, that are vaccine researchers.

Amanda Sloat: So, you know, I think for a lot of the students, it's obviously an incredibly scary moment and I don't envy anybody that's trying to search for a job at this particular time. But I think crises also create opportunities for really innovative thinking. And if you look even at the financial crisis in 2008, it's when Uber was developed, it's when WhatsApp was developed. So, it is a great opportunity to be able to identify needs and then think creatively about ways to solve them.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Well, there were people have joined you in the Dr. Fauci fan club in the chat, not least, we know that Brad Pitt is a huge fan. Because he gave it Dr Fauci’s recommendation that he should play Dr. Fauci on Saturday Night Live. So okay without further ado, I have a couple hands popping up now, little by little, so I want to have Alvaro Renedo who joins us from Spain jump into this conversation. So I think Erika can unmute your mic. Oh you're unmuted. So Alvaro please go ahead with your question.

Alvaro Renedo Zalba: Thank you very much, Cathryn, Amanda. It was a fascinating discussion. Amanda, pleasure to meet you virtually. I'm for a European Spanish diplomat and an EU law scholar. It is an encouraging, albeit not entirely frequent pleasure to encounter for people as well-versed as you in European affairs in the US. So thank you very much.

Alvaro Renedo Zalba: As a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and at the final stage of a research project focused on the impact of EU foreign policy instruments for transatlantic dialogue. And to this end, I've interviewed senior government officials from the Trump, Obama, W. Bush, and Clinton administrations. And most of them have bemoaned, and understandably so, the poly-headed, complex institutional structure of the European Union.

Alvaro Renedo Zalba: And I say, understandably so, because even for an EU law scholar, it can get tricky at one point. And we have Professor Jolyon Howorth with us today. And in his book, which I wholeheartedly recommend, he describes how in the past, even before Lisbon, this structure was perceived as internally dysfunctional and externally mystifying. So, my question would be: within COVID-19 and in perspective of future crises, what could be done to foster more fluid, effective political dialogue between the US and the EU as such in order to address collectively these challenges?

Alvaro Renedo Zalba: Because the travel bands were adopted in the US vis-à-vis Europe without prior consultation or coordination. And obviously the EU was not entertained by this. But what could be done in spite of this mammoth, complex structure?

Amanda Sloat: I thank you for that. I think it's a great question, and I will add…you reminded me and I also saw the person who chimed in on the Czech Republic…if there are people listening on here who are in different countries or who have views on different countries, I am still soliciting input for my second round of my paper. So, please feel free to email me information about things that are going on in your countries that that are reopening especially around these debates, I would very much welcome input and Cathryn maybe can stick my Brookings email in the chat function. I'm happy to get examples.

Amanda Sloat: I think you're right. I think for the average American, even people fairly well-versed in Europe who are in government, the EU is very complicated to understand. I was a stagiaire in the Commission, many, many years ago. And it was fascinating to get insight on the way it worked.

Amanda Sloat: And it's actually amazing to me that the EU functions as well as it does. I mean, when you take one eight completely different countries and nationalities and cultures, you know, the fact that they can come to agreement on anything is pretty spectacular. You know, and certainly from the United States, there's no way that we would end up subjecting our own national sovereignty to decision making by that many countries. I mean, we cannot even sign on to the International Criminal Court or certain other legal instruments because we don't want to give up any of that sovereignty.

Amanda Sloat: So, I do have a high degree of admiration and sympathy for what the EU is trying to do. That said, as you rightly know, it can be incredibly frustrating to try and deal with the EU from the outside. I think in the best case scenario, you would have an EU that was able to come to a common position, that was able to reach consensus, and that would answer this question of Henry Kissinger of, “who do we call in, in Europe?” You know, if we had one phone number to call, I think that would make life much easier.

Amanda Sloat: I think the development of the High Representative for Foreign Policy was a good first step. It helped answer some of that initial phone number question.

Amanda Sloat: And then I think it really ends up depending on the way the US uses it. I think Hillary Clinton had a very good relationship when she was Secretary of State with Catherine Ashton. And I think there was a lot of ways that they were able to work very effectively together. I think John Kerry continuing on with Federica Mogherini and in that position.

Amanda Sloat: But the reality is that the US, at least for the foreseeable future, is going to continue engaging with national capitals as well. I certainly with the big three. Although I think there's going to have to be an adjustment by the US following Brexit because London was always the first point of entry. You know, they were the most likeminded with us on things like economic issues, on sanctions.

Amanda Sloat: So if we can get a common position with the UK, that was always an effective backdoor for the US to be able to get into the EU. I know there's a perception in Europe that American interest in Europe really started to shift during the Obama administration. I was working on European policy at the State Department at the time, so did not fully agree with that. I think even Obama's famous pivot to Asia was simply a recognition of the rising economic and military power of Asia. And so, there was a desire, either for Europe to pivot with us.

Amanda Sloat: And Ashton and Clinton did do some things there. Or for Europe to be able to take much more responsibility for its own backyard to be able to free up American economic and military resources to operate elsewhere. Obama also do not have a great love for meeting for the sake of meeting. There was not a lot of enthusiasm for summits.

Amanda Sloat: You know, and having sat through some of those myself, I think they can be action-forcing vehicles, but they aren't necessarily the most salient or useful events in and of themselves. And then we've had the Trump administration with a very America first approach with really shifting this American attitude from one that has been supporting and encouraging European integration to openly disliking European integration, cheerleading for Brexit calling the EU a foe, wanting to see other countries following the Brits out the door.

Amanda Sloat: So I think a lot of this really is going to depend on what happens in the November elections. If Biden wins, he is a transatlanticist at heart. I think there would be an effort to try and restore trust and to work more effectively with the European Union.

Amanda Sloat: Then the question comes back to what I was talking about earlier, which is whether Europe actually has the capacity to act and respond. You know, one of the things that's most frustrated me is that Europeans are always very keen to be part of the club, they really want to be talked to, they want to be involved.

Amanda Sloat: You know, so once you invite them to the party it's like, you know, what are you going to bring? You got a casserole? And Europeans don't always have the stuff to bring. And so, I think there can be frustration in the United States that we get it, we want you to be a part of it, but if you're going to come to the party, you've got to bring strategic assets. And in a lot of recent cases, you know, even as recently in Libya, the Europeans just haven't been able to deliver.

Amanda Sloat: So, you know, I think there needs to be greater willingness on Washington’s side than certainly what we've seen in the last couple of years. But to the degree that you could have Europe develop a much greater sense of internal cohesion and also to really fundamentally address this burden sharing issue and find a way to come to the table with more strategic assets and abilities across the gamut of areas. I think there is going to continue to be this friction.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Thank you, Alvaro, for that question. I think that sort of connected to a comment that Katrine just made in the chat, though I slightly disagree. But she's pointing out in the chat that there's insufficient sort of crisis management capacities within the EU and because you mentioned the transatlantic dimension, I do want to circle back to NATO and again want to encourage all of you to participate in this discussion, raise your hands comment. I do get to all the comments in the chat or will. We have about seven or eight minutes before we have to wrap things up. So please get in on the conversation.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: You mentioned NATO. NATO’s effectiveness in, you know, serving as a node particularly with respect to countries on European fringes that are of particular security concern with Russia right there. NATO really motivating resources, bundling competences. As the key institution in the transatlantic alliance, and you've mentioned that you have felt that the European Union, in that sense, has been to a strategic…

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Is NATO, the way forward to kind of bundle the capacities that we need here, despite the fact that it has a really strong and circumscribed remit at this point in terms of how it defines defense? What do you think is going to happen in the way that NATO rethinks its responsibilities?

Amanda Sloat: I mean, it is an interesting question with NATO, and I think it's fascinating that that NATO was responding much more effectively. I mean, it may be that simply by virtue of it being a military organization that is much better suited to dealing with logistical and supply chain issues. And so, it's a much more instinctive muscle memory driven response to try and help people and countries get assets to where they need to go.

Amanda Sloat: NATO, of course, is an intergovernmental institution. It's not a supranational one, and so you don't have some of those same concerns about ceding sovereignty and decision making. You know, NATO is in the process of undertaking this new strategic review. Wes Mitchell, who had been Assistant Secretary at the State Department, is one of the co-chairs of it. And I think it will be interesting, and I assume it is something that they're going to do to include this pandemic type response into what they are thinking about and envisioning for what NATO's future is.

Amanda Sloat: NATO is not any stranger to the same type of debate that the EU is about whither the future of NAT. And really with the end of the Cold War, there's been lots of questions about what NATO's future is going to be, what role it's going to play, potentially, in out of area. And I think this crisis really is highlighting another potential area where NATO is potentially able to play. And certainly, in terms of distribution of equipment, it's been much more nimble and successful.

Amanda Sloat: And NATO is going to continue to be important because it's going to be the transatlantic body where the UK is a player. The US is also a player. And I think that remains a very unique and important configuration.

Amanda Sloat: Assuming, you know, we don't have a second Trump term and he doesn't pull out of NATO, and, in which case, all bets are off. But, but assuming things continue as they are, I think, NATO is going to continue to play an important role. And I think there's also lots of work that can be done in looking at how NATO has responded to the crisis and why it's been so much more effective and what that should mean for going forward.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: I appreciate that. And I think the tricky thing about our business, as you've rightly pointed out, is last four or five years have brought so many odd, well potentially predictable surprises, but some very unpredictable surprises that, you know, this forecasting ability that many of us analysts are usually paid to play is becoming increasingly difficult. So I think you've laid out, I think very clearly, a number of options that do that are very in line with, you know, developments over the next few months, or the next year. But of course, so much hinges on this election in November.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: I have two more questions in the queue over here. Siddhartha Sharma takes us to a different part of the globe, wisely, and asked, how do you see India's domestic response in the international help it has offered to the international community? We will remember that India’s lockdown came very suddenly, had a lot of domestic issues because it put a lot of people on the streets. But of course, there was this international component to it as well. So he says, what are your views, whether it contributes to any significant relationship building to promote more poles power of in the world order, other than the EU, US, and China?

Amanda Sloat: I'm going to confess that I do not have sufficient expertise on India to give a good answer to that question. So, I will, in good interviewee fashion, pivot to something that I actually do know something about which is talking a little bit about China. And I think that there are, which is something we haven't talked about yet, but I think the China relationship is going to be interesting. I mean, and one of the things that I find fascinating about China's response to this, especially in Europe, is that China really is playing the arsonist and the firefighter.

Amanda Sloat: That you have a country that was not particularly forthcoming in it's sharing of information with countries about the start of the crisis, the seriousness of the crisis.

Amanda Sloat: But that China trying to really is trying to position itself, especially in Europe, as well as in places in Africa as the savior to this. You know, they've been providing large amounts of medical supplies to European countries, you know, it's been faulty in some cases, but they have been providing it. Their diplomatic messaging, especially on social media in Europe has been incredibly forward leaning as portraying themselves as wanting to help respond to this crisis.

Amanda Sloat: And this is something that we saw even a number of years ago in Europe, especially in some of these southern European countries when they were facing a financial crisis that the IMF and other financial organizations came in and made these countries sell off their strategic assets. There were then no Western buyers, and so then China came in and purchased them which is why China now owns Portugal's electricity grid. It's why they own Greek ports.

Amanda Sloat: And so, I think there's a challenge for Europe where you have countries that really have a need for medical supplies and are prepared to take them from Europe…or from China in the name of public health. And yet, at the same time, I think leaders are cognizant of the political and public relations game that China is playing as well.

Amanda Sloat: And China, I think, has really been trying to portray itself to Europe is being multilateral in a way that the United States under the current administration is not. China’s assistance does not tend to come with pesky strings of things like democracy and the rest that Western aid often comes to. You know, and of course this is all happening against the backdrop of the Huawei debate.

Amanda Sloat: So again, I think, China remains one of those areas where the United States and Europe should be cooperating both in terms of the response to China, as well as in the response to things like the pandemic that don't necessarily require Europe to try and look to the outside for greater assistance. And the India question, I think, is good. I just, I don't have enough background on that.

Amanda Sloat: I mean, certainly you did have this large national lockdown. And given the poverty, in some places in the country, and the way a lot of people were living, I think, has created real challenges.

Siddhartha Sharma: Well, thank you very much.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Thanks, Siddhartha, very much.

Amanda Sloat: Email me and tell me. I would be curious to know your take on what's happening in India. You know, the Europe stuff, I've got a much better feel for, but no, shoot me an email and let me know. I would be interested in your own answer to that question.

Siddhartha Sharma: I will do. Thank you.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: I was just going, I was just going say the exact same thing. And I know that on chat, just because we have to tie things up here in a moment, one of our HKS fellows has shared a little bit about her perspective down in Australia and wanting to provide some perspective on how, having just emerged from major climate calamity in Australia, Amanda, that bushfire situation is affecting the COVID questions.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: So, she's offering some perspective as well. So thank you, Leonora, for sharing your views. That's over in chat. And again, do please feel free to get in touch with Amanda. I've posted her email address in chat. You might have to scroll a little bit to find it.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Couple of questions as and we'll round up on that, because of course that's on everyone's mind, is the economic challenges that we face globally. You mentioned in the introductory remarks. Of course, this is a symmetric crisis: it's affecting everybody in a very short amount of time. You know, in almost the same sectors with the same sort of shock effect, so as you look out into the economic factors, the economic challenges…we have one question on low and middle income countries and informal economies that stays a little bit with the India question that was just raised.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: So what are your greatest concerns there? What is the global community doing? Is it doing enough? Where's the G20, I guess, is some of that question. And then somewhat more concretely, I don't know if you have a particular perspective on that, Amanda, from Joanna. She's wondering about how that trickles down in sort of the countries you've already been speaking about (Europe, the United States) where it's really about saving larger parts of the economy (larger sector, small and medium sized businesses) and whether, you know, it's wise for governments to decide when they need to open and how that needs to function?

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: So those are two last questions on the chat. Oh, I see Karl has his hand raised. So maybe we can fit Karl in there too, but I do realize that we gave you a time for 8:30 to 9:45. We're a little over. So if we can fit all those questions in, Karl, we’ll be happy to come to you shortly.

Amanda Sloat: The economic questions are good, as with my limited India expertise, I will also confess that I'm not an economist, and I know there's lots of good work happening on all of that. I mean, I think that's going to be a challenge. I mean, clearly, it's going to be a challenge. I will say a number of things.

Amanda Sloat: One: it was interesting in talking to people in in Sweden this weekend where there's been a lot of criticism, or I think at least skepticism, in Europe, in particular, about Sweden's very different response to this where many more things were able to stay open. You do have a higher number of infections and deaths in Sweden than you do in some of the neighboring Nordic countries. And yet, it'll be interesting to sort of look at the cost benefit analysis once we come through this to see if you have a healthier economic situation in Sweden.

Amanda Sloat: If you also have a better mental health situation for parents, for children, for workers. And how you end up making that that cost benefit analysis in terms of being prepared to tolerate a higher degree of loss on the human side, and how that balances out on the economic side.

Amanda Sloat: Another thing that that has been striking me this week, and one of the things I've been trying to do is look more specifically at Latin American cases, which is where I had less information both Latin America and Africa are at a much higher degree of cases of coronavirus than they were a month ago when I did the first article.

Amanda Sloat: And you know there's also differences in how you approach this economic question. You know, I think we've sort of been talking about very high-level economics about businesses and recessions and all of that.

Amanda Sloat: But what's been striking, including in some of these Latin American countries, as well as what I've heard from friends in Africa, is we have people who are literally starving. So it's not just that businesses are going to be going bust, but in some of these countries, people are literally starving and dying because of this crisis. One of the stories that struck me in Latin America, I can't remember if it was in Colombia or Nicaragua, people tying red cloth on their window or their door to indicate that that they did not have any food and that people were dying inside the house.

Amanda Sloat: And so, I think this question of food is another thing that that really has struck me this weekend and really is one of the biggest differences in how this pandemic is affecting people. That sort of on this…I don't know what the word is…like this lower base level of economics, people literally are dying because they can't eat. And so in some of these countries, including in Latin America, people have to make the decision to go to work simply because if they don't go to work, their families are going to starve, and that's going to be a real problem.

Amanda Sloat: And I think as this crisis continues to hit Africa and Latin America harder than what it has so far, that I think, is something that we are going to continue to see. On this this bigger level of higher economics, I think there's certainly talk in the UK about the country going into a recession depending on how some of the Brexit stuff plays out.

Amanda Sloat: That, I think, is going to be exacerbated there. Questions about what's going to happen in the US. And then what the global response is. I mean, again, in the past, we've seen the United States providing international leadership on these questions, which certainly is not happening. You know, sort of this this rather sad case with the G7 when Macron had to suggest to Trump that we hold the G7 which Trump needed to chair because the US has the chair.

Amanda Sloat: But France had to do all of the legwork to get it set up, and had to initiate it in the first place. So I think it's difficult, from the United States perspective, where we have such an America first driven response to things that really is preventing the US from showing the global leadership that's necessary. And my theory is that that is going to continue to be the case on the economic side the same way it has been in terms of, you know, the search for a vaccine and medical equipment.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: I want to thank you for raising the topic of food insecurity. We had Douglas Alexander and Zoe Marks on a seminar last week, who spoke particularly about all the adjacent issues with respect to the African subcontinent in a separate seminar. But, I think, for those of us that were, you know, these linked issues aren't starkly obvious, I think, you know, migration, climate, food insecurity issues. I think how this all links to this crisis and the immediate vividness of the crisis that we're experiencing, and how, you know, that will continue to trickle down to other policy areas that so desperately affect human lives.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: I think that is sort of the second wave of policy realizations that are still to come, at least sort of to that degree of vividness. So I think, you know, we're so far from being in the clear. I thank you for pointing out how that relates to so many other really critical global issues. Karl Kaiser has the last question.

Amanda Sloat: And say, just I see Carlos and Soporo on the chat sent me messages. I don’t know enough people in Latin America or Africa, so I want both of you to email me. I want to know more about what's going on in Peru and also the food security situation. So my articles are only as good as the information that I get from people. So, please send me information.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: I'm very glad this is already been a productive hub here. Karl, the last question comes to you.

Karl Kaiser: Amanda, back to the UK for a second. Doesn't COVID fundamentally change the context of Brexit. Just think about what would be necessary. You need lots of personnel to implement any kind of solution. For example, the WTO solution. You need lots of people to create new regulations, to control. Does Britain really have that personnel under the conditions of COVID?

Amanda Sloat: You know, Douglas sitting in London is probably even better place to respond to that than I am, but I would…He’s saying no. But I would say no. I mean, one of the things that struck me even last year before coronavirus and I can't remember what the current number is, but there was something like 20,000 civil servants in London who are working solely on Brexit related issues.

Amanda Sloat: So that's a lot of people that are not being able to focus on anything else, let alone focusing on coronavirus. The Foreign Office, I know, is incredibly stretched. I have a friend who was in language training to go be an ambassador, and she's been pulled back to be part of this COVID Task Force focusing on different parts of Europe.

Amanda Sloat: So, the government service is already incredibly strained. You're absolutely right that the amount of regulation and adjustment that's going to have to be put into place for Brexit to happen is extraordinary. Businesses are going to have to completely adjust the way they do customs regulations, all of the trade rules. I mean, to me, it's crazy to think that the UK would stick with the end of the transition period being December 31, I just don't see any way that the government is going to be ready, that businesses are going to be ready.

Amanda Sloat: If, as looks likely, the UK ends up moving into a recession, you're going to knowingly have a second economic shock on businesses. Either way, either even if you leave with a scaled down trade deal, or if you leave with no deal, I think there's a certain school of thought in the UK that the economy is so messed up now with COVID anyway that adding a little bit of additional economic strain is sort of a way to just kind of sneak this through and get everything done.

Amanda Sloat: My own view is that that would be hugely responsible and also would be very economically damaging, and you're seeing that with all of these debates right now in response to coronavirus as well in terms of how you coordinate on medicine, on supply.

Amanda Sloat: You know, a lot of the focus during this transition period has been on negotiating a trade deal, but everything needs to get sorted out. I mean, there's questions of fishery, there's questions in aviation safety, of access to airports. It's just a staggering amount. And if you remember back to when Brexit negotiations started, the transition period was supposed to be 21 months because of the large amount of stuff that needed to be done.

Amanda Sloat: And so, with all of the machinations last year, that period got shortened down to 11 months, and now with coronavirus we've essentially lost all of March and April. So I just, I don't see any conceivable way that this gets done. Not least because the two sides are extremely far apart, you know, if the UK wants to cave on everything, it's possible that there could be a deal. But that's not the position of the British Government either,

Amanda Sloat: My own sense is it would be politically irresponsible to do anything other than extend the transition period, focus resources right now on getting through COVID, and then being able to have a serious, thoughtful process in terms of how this gets implemented.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Douglas, can we hear your voice on those last couple of points that Amanda made.

Douglas Alexander: Amanda was characteristically rational, but we're not in the realm of the rational when it comes to Brexit policy. ad I think it will be a very early test as to whether Boris Johnson has in any way fundamentally shifted his understanding as a result of his own experience of COVID-19. But, that's asking a lot of the virus. And the truth is, we would need that to happen by the end of June in terms of a formal request for an extension to the transitional period. And if you like, I think the key question is: does the British Government reconcile itself to that change reality by the end of June?

Douglas Alexander: I think if they don't reconcile themselves to that changed reality and seek a formal extension to transition, it actually perversely significantly increases the prospect of Britain leaving with no deal on WTO terms on December 31 for all the reasons that Amanda's just elucidated. There’s so much work to be done.

Douglas Alexander: So much of the bandwidth, both in the Commission and in Whitehall, is now naturally and appropriately distracted. But I really struggled to see how anything other than the barest bones of a trade deal could be negotiated in the remaining months of this year. And economic rationality all points towards extension, but Britain left economic rationality in this debate, I'm afraid, some time ago.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Well, that's a disheartening way to end the seminar. We’ll all have to pour something else into our teacups that's maybe not just tea now in order to get through the remainder of the day, which is now shorter in the UK and the US. In the US, we still have the rest of the day in front of us.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Um, I really want to thank Dr. Amanda Sloat for spending this morning with us. I think we've really managed to do a tour de force across the globe. So Amanda all the perspectives that you have harvested, I think, have given us a greater perspective and understanding of all dimensions of this crisis. I'm very pleased that your call out to more examples and at greater depth of perspectives has worked very well. I think on chat, you have a couple more of view coming towards you.

Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: Thank you all for being here early this morning, particularly thank you to Dr. Amanda Sloat. As we mentioned, this conversation will be up on our website, probably in a few days time. So if you want to listen back to this, or again, be in touch with Amanda, please do. I know she appreciates it thanks to you all.


For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:How People and Countries around the World are Coping with Coronavirus.” , April 28, 2020.