The ‘State of the Union’ in the Face of Coronavirus

Since the formation of the European Union in 1993, Florence has celebrated this historical event by hosting the Festival of Europe. Although the larger festival, which often includes cultural events, will not take place amidst the pandemic, the State of the Union will be streamed in three segments on Friday May 8, 2020 and will still be available afterwards for viewing on the website. 

The State of the Union is organized by the European University Institute (EUI)––an international graduate research institute––which in the past years has organized a series of talks in Florence City’s Hall, Palazzo Vecchio, and the institute itself located in Fiesole. While these talks were open to the public, registration was nonetheless required.

This year, an online streaming platform will allow everyone with internet access to listen to Europe’s greatest leaders discussing this year’s theme: the effects of coronavirus. The State of the Union will be broken up in three sessions, but all related to the consequences of covid-19: health policy and society, economic policies for the aftermath, and global cooperation. Each annual theme is meant to explore crucial current issues the EU is facing. In past years this has included talks regarding the refugee and immigration crisis, the UK referendum, and women’s rights.

The lack of cultural, artistic and educational offerings this year is made up for by the outstanding selection of speakers which includes the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, President of the European Union Council Charles Michel, Mayor of Florence Dario Nardella, governor of the Tuscany Enrico Rossi, Professor and Dean, School of Health Sciences Wuhan University Xuejie Yu and Regional Emergency Director, World Health Organization (WHO) Doris Nitzan, for Session 1 (10 am – 11:30 am) entitled Health Policy and Society. 

Among the topic specialists who will be participating in Session 2 (1 – 2:30 pm), Economic Policies are President of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde, Financial Times Editor Roula Khalaf; Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Paolo Gentiloni and Professor of Economics, London School of Economics Richard Reis.  Speakers who will be examining the Global Forces focus for Session 3 (5:30 – 7 pm) comprise Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Kristalina Georgieva, Director, Center for Sustainable Development of Columbia University Jeoffrey Sachs, the Managing Director, Development Policy & Partnerships of The World Bank Mari Pangestu in addition to Prime Minster Giuseppe Conte, Roula Khalaf of the Financial Times and others.   

The State of the Union is one of the most important annual events, as it provides a platform for political leaders, academics, and the public to engage in a productive conversation about pertinent problems. That being said, Covid-19 is the most relevant topic for this year’s discussion––and that’s an understatement. Hopefully by the end of this multiple hour State of the Union, some answers will be uncovered regarding how to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.  (elizabeth berry)