While the US and EU did not make much progress toward these objectives, they did work closely and effectively (albeit belatedly) to combat the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa in March 2014. While EU member states played a critical role in containing the outbreak, the European Commission also played an important part. The appointment of an EU Ebola Coordinator helped ensure that the EU institutions and member states acted in a coordinated manner with each other and with international partners.
The coordinator ensured that the Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid worked in harmony with all the other parts of the EU bureaucracy that had an important role. They included the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development, responsible for foreign aid. Moreover, the Directorate-General for Health identified facilities in member states that were willing and able to accept Ebola patients, the Director-General for Internal Affairs (including justice and law enforcement) coordinated entry and exit procedures at airports in case of travellers suspected of having Ebola; the Directorate-General for Research worked to promote vaccines and therapies; and the European External Action Service maintained the EU’s diplomatic relations with the world, including African states stricken by the virus.
The United Kingdom and France played critical roles in Liberia and Guinea, respectively, especially by setting up mobile laboratories for testing, providing personal protective equipment, skilled doctors and significant financial aid. Out of a total €2 billion provided by the EU, the European Commission provided €870 million for emergency measures, financial support for the African Union’s own medical mission to the region, and long-term relief (such as budgetary support for the restoration of vital public services and the strengthening of food security).
Senior officials of the Obama administration responsible for the US response to the Ebola outbreak, including Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the United Nations, appreciated the European Commission’s role as coordinator and conduit of critical information. This was particularly evident in the effort to ensure sufficient capacity for medical evacuation of infected health care professionals back to properly equipped treatment facilities in Europe.
In the current coronavirus crisis, alas, we have not seen any evident US-EU coordination. To the contrary, we have seen the spectacle of a US president accusing Europe of “seeding” US infections, without uttering one word of sympathy for US allies and without offering any help. Shipments of personal protective equipment from all over the world have been rerouted from their European destinations to the United States. President Trump has threatened to freeze funding for the World Health Organization, an international organization that (despite criticisms of how it has handled the Covid-19 crisis) is critical to ensure a global response.