HJS VIRTUAL EVENT: Covid-19 and the Future of Geopolitical Fault Lines in Europe

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HJS VIRTUAL EVENT: Covid-19 and the Future of Geopolitical Fault Lines in Europe

26th May 2020 @ 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

All event times in BST


Covid-19 has hit Western and Southern European countries – Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland – particularly hard. Across the continent, governments have implemented ‘lock downs’ to contain and repress the spread of the virus. China and Russia have seized on the opportunity to spread propaganda and push into European politics. The European Union has come under robust critique for its lethargic response, and for letting China and Russia get the upper-hand in the early phases of the disease’s outbreak. And the perennial problem of ‘north-south’ relations has re-asserted itself, as Italy and Spain have looked to their northern neighbours for economic assistance. European geopolitics is once again in motion.

The Henry Jackson Society welcomes you to join this online panel to debate the implications of Covid-19 for European security. It will review the internal fault lines within Europe, especially the north/south conflict over the euro, how this will be affected by Covid-19 (i.e. questions around debt), and the implications of this for European foreign policy. It will also look at how the fault lines within Eastern and Central Europe (and with the rest of Europe) might be enhanced by Covid-19, as well as the broader implications for the Atlantic alliance.



Justyna Gotkowska is Programme Coordinator of the Regional Security Programme at the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW) in Warsaw, Poland. She holds expertise in Eastern and Central Europe, Germany, and the Baltic and Nordic states.She graduated from University of Warsaw and RWTH Aachen University. Since 2008 she has been working at the OSW, and her major publications include NATO in Transition (2019), and The Trouble with PESCO: The Mirages of European Defence (2018).



Hans Kundnani is Senior Research Fellow in the Europe Programme at Chatham House. Before joining Chatham House in 2018, he was Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and Research Director at the European Council on Foreign Relations. He is also Associate Fellow at the Institute for German Studies at Birmingham University. In 2016 he was a Bosch Public Policy Fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington DC. He is the author of The Paradox of German Power (2014), which has been translated into German, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Spanish. He studied German and Philosophy at Oxford University and Journalism at Columbia University in New York, where he was a Fulbright Scholar.



Luis Simón is Senior Analyst and Director of the Elcano Royal Institute’s Brussels Office, in addition of being Research Professor of International Relations at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of London, and a MA in European Studies from the Institute d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po).  He has been a visiting fellow at the Universities of Columbia and Johns Hopkins, the Royal United Services Institute (London), the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique (Paris) and the EU Institute for Security Studies, among others. He also is or has been a visiting professor at the NATO School, the European Security and Defence College, l’Ecole Nationale d’Administration, the US Army War College, the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and the Baltic Defence College, among others. His articles have been published in prestigious journals, such as International Affairs, The Journal of Strategic Studies, Geopolitics, Orbis, Survival, The RUSI Journal, Comparative Strategy, Parameters and The International Spectator. He is furthermore a co-founder and senior editor of the online magazine European Geostrategy, and a member of the editorial board of Parameters: The US Army War College Quarterly.

Event Summary:



In ‘Covid-19 and the Future of Geopolitical Fault Lines in Europe’, James Rogers chaired a panel of Hans Kudnani from Chatham House’s Europe Programme, Justyna Gotkowska from the Centre for Eastern Studies, and Luis Simón from the Elcano Royal Institute’s Brussels office. The panel discussed the accelerating effects of Covid-19 upon geopolitical fault lines in Europe and the future of multilateralism in a post-Covid-19 world. Kudnani began by outlining the internal fault lines in Europe prior to the pandemic. He offered that there are two axes emerging within Europe: a horizontal axis between EU member states and a vertical axis between elites and citizens. These axes began to emerge in the 2010 Euro crisis, creating a fault line between creditors and debtors largely distributed between the north and south of Europe respectively. The largest effect Covid-19 will have upon these fault lines is not in the number of infections or deaths, but in the degree to which the north and south are affected economically.

Gotkowska presented these trends from a Central and Eastern European perspective. She offered that the region is at an impasse with the fault lines in Europe limiting security and defence options. While there is an emerging opinion in Poland for Poland to lead a regional security grouping to counter Russian influence, Gotkowska opposed this option as being unrealistic. She proposed Poland look to Europe and the US to strengthen its security. Such a strategy is problematised though by how Russia is emerging as a secondary objective to the US with the focus being on Sino-American competition. Simón offered that Europe will certainly be affected by great power competition, but it is yet to be decided definitively whether Europe will be an object or a subject in this confrontation. Indeed, Simón presented that the problem of Europe becoming an object for Sino-American competition has become increasingly salient due to Covid-19 accelerating tensions within Europe and between China and the US.

It has been offered by some that the divisions within Europe have emerged due to an incoherent policy towards China. However, the panellists agreed this perspective is too short-sighted and instead the fault lines within Europe have been internally crafted. Furthermore, it is likely these fault lines will be furthered again by macroeconomic imbalances due to the approaching economic fallout of Covid-19. Accordingly, the panellists discussed the potential for the Franco-German proposed €500 billion relief fund. When asked whether domestic pressure may minimise Macron and Merkel’s ability to implement such a fund, the panellists agreed that the domestic situations in France and Germany will have little impact. Instead, it will be the fault lines and internal tensions that will undermine the fund’s ability mitigate the worsening of macroeconomic imbalances.

The panellists also discussed the policy options for Europe to navigate the post-Covid-19 international system. One popular policy prescription emerging in response to the rise of Sino-American competition is for the EU to use Covid-19 as an opportunity to reset multilateralism and emerge as a united front. However, both Simón and Kudnani questioned whether this was realistic. Indeed, Simón proposed that it is possible this will be a period where the Westphalian state makes a return to the international system. Kudnani was less certain. Instead, he argued the EU should state and pursue its specific form of multilateralism rather than being in favour of multilateralism for the sake of multilateralism. Simón acknowledged that the ‘US superstructure’ of multilateral institutions that was so effective against Russia during the cold war is less effective in this new era of great power competition due to China’s corrosion of these institutions. He was unsure over whether the US should abandon or attempt to revive these institutions, but he agreed with Kudnani and offered that the EU should specify that their brand of multilateralism. Gotkowska agreed with these trends and offered that the decision over the EU’s policy towards China will likely emerge in Germany. Fundamentally, the panellists agreed that Covid-19 has accelerated the trend towards a decisive point where collectively, the future of multilateralism in this new era of great power competition must be decided.


26th May 2020
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm


United Kingdom


Henry Jackson Society
+44 (0) 20 7340 4520


Justyna Gotkowska


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