We could learn a lot from Georgia, Dirk Wiese, Bundestag member says
04 May, 2020
We could learn a lot from Georgia, Dirk Wiese, Bundestag member says
Coronavirus pandemic appears to be even bigger a challenge than any country could imagine. The most developed countries like the US, the EU and some of the Asian countries, were unprepared for the pandemic. There were number of problems starting from the lack of medical equipment or medical personnel to timing of implementing counter measures.

Results in Georgia, compared to many countries, is exemplary for many and the international media has noted that several times. How should the modern reality be
assessed, what are the new political or social challenges caused by the pandemic and what could other countries learn from Georgia?

Dirk Wiese - Coordinator for Intersocietal Cooperation with Russia, Central Asia and the Eastern Partnership Countries and Member of the German Bundestag gave an exclusive interview to Georgian Journal and answered our questions.

What are the results of pandemic caused by the coronavirus for Germany and the EU?

Of course, my thoughts are with the people in Germany, Europe and the world who have contracted the coronavirus and are fighting it - and all those who have lost this fight. I wish the sick a speedy recovery. I wish those who have lost a loved one that they can find comfort.

The numbers on infections and the course of the disease are documented on a daily basis by the John Hopkins University - in Germany there are currently over 160,000 proven cases of infection.

In order to control the pandemic as much as possible, Germany has severely restricted public life. This has helped to slow the spread of the virus and the German health care system has been able to and can provide everyone with the best possible care at all times. Our EU partners and European neighbors acted similarly. Every single restriction is very painful, but unfortunately it is currently necessary.

The standstill in public life will pose major economic challenges for Germany and Europe. The federal government acted quickly and decisively to mitigate the consequences in Germany as best as possible. Together with our partners, we will succeed in doing this for the EU as a whole.

Was Germany ready enough to fight the coronavirus?

Germany has one of the best health care systems in the world and top medical and pharmaceutical research is carried out in Germany. The German administration from the municipalities to the federal ministries is good and efficient.

Very few could imagine that a pandemic would spread across the world and Germany, threaten the lives of millions of people and make very extensive restrictions on public life necessary. Nevertheless, the people of Germany have acted courageously and reasonably, protected themselves and shown solidarity with others when it mattered.

Could you share what were mistakes made by Germany in fight against the coronavirus? What helped Germany the most to fight the coronavirus?

In my view, a lot has really been done correctly in Germany. It was crucial that the citizens stood together. However, we are still at the beginning of the pandemic, not at the end. Therefore, it is not the time to evaluate mistakes today. We must continue now and for a long time as much as possible to do right in the fight against Corona.

Does pandemic caused by the virus strengthen anti-EU powers in the union? Some experts think that number of countries who want to exit the EU will rise. Is pandemic dangerous to the EU’s unity and do you anticipate increase of anti-European rhetoric in Germany?

I see an opposite effect for Germany: Since the corona pandemic forces us to differentiate between important and unimportant, populists and extremists with their supposedly simple answers have been unable to get through. Most Germans are aware that our country can only do well in the long term if Europe is doing well. The EU has quickly decided on an aid package of up to 540 billion euros and in many places in Europe, thanks to this program, people will feel in their everyday lives that we as Europeans are stronger together. In general, the EU has often emerged stronger from crises in the past. This time it must be our goal.

Was help from the EU and Germany to Italy belated? Do you anticipate increase of anti-European rhetoric in Italy? (especially after they received Russian medical aid)

It was true that each country first took national measures to fight Corona. It's like on a plane: in an emergency, everyone should put on their own masks before helping others. If we and other Member States had not done our national homework, we would not have been able to support our neighbors. So the order was right.

Germany has actively supported Italy's medical fight against Corona. German hospitals have taken over 40 Italian patients to their intensive care units. In addition, in mid-March we delivered 7.5 tons of relief supplies, including respirators and anesthetic masks, to Italy.

The next step is to support Italy and others in the fight against the economic consequences of the pandemic. Germany is ready for this, for example in the form of a two-year European economic stimulus program. Many people in Italy will benefit from this. I am confident that they will conclude that we as Europeans are stronger together.

Do you anticipate increase of disinformation flows from Russia amid pandemic and in your opinion, which country are the most vulnerable to disinformation? What could you say about Germany?

I'm not going to talk about individual states. In Germany, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution is currently registering a sharp rise in disinformation from third countries overall. The reason for this is apparently the intention to undermine the trust of the citizens in the crisis management of the federal government. We have to expose such attempts at disinformation, and for this we also need increased European and international cooperation.

Are there any plans to cooperate with Georgia to fight the coronavirus disinformation?

With the East StratCom Task Force, the European External Action Service has been an excellent tool for uncovering and combating disinformation since 2015. The Task Force's services are also available to Georgia and the other Eastern Partnership countries. In times of the corona pandemic, their work is of course particularly relevant, as can also be seen from the reporting of the task force.

For the EU countries it was not easy to agree amount of financial aid to help most affected countries. For how long could economic crisis last, in your opinion?

For Germany, the federal government expects a significant recession as a result of the Covid 19 crisis in 2020. How quickly the German economy can recover largely depends on when the essential measures to protect life and health in Germany can be scaled back. Then it will go up step by step. For Germany, the Federal Government expects strong growth of 5.2 percent in 2021 as part of the catch-up process.

There are rising number of questions from the US to China regarding handling of the virus. Do you agree that China hid information and the government is involved in disinformation campaign?

It is obvious that China is trying to spread a certain narrative in the corona crisis. I would find more openness in China helpful, especially with regard to the origin of the virus and the course of the pandemic in China. For the cause research and the development of a vaccine, it is important to know where the coronavirus comes from and how it originated.

How would you assess Georgia’s fight against the coronavirus?

I am pleased that Georgia has so far only a limited number of infected people, and especially deaths. This is certainly also a result of the strict measures that the government has taken and which I hear are being implemented in a very disciplined manner. In the fight against Corona, it is important that everyone acts responsibly, protects themselves and others and supports others in solidarity. According to my observation, this worked very well in Georgia, and I think it should continue to do so.

What could other countries, Germany for example, could learn from Georgia?

Good question! For example, it is remarkable how quickly the young Georgian textile industry started producing face masks and other medical protective equipment. But we can also set an example for the Georgians as a whole: they show great steadfastness in the face of the crisis and will certainly be determined to overcome the economic consequences.

Amid pandemic, in which direction should the European Partnership countries should proceed cooperation?

It is very important that, despite this crisis, we continue to work together to bring Europe closer together, to make democracy and the rule of law better and safer, and of course to take advantage of the economic opportunities that our neighborhood brings. This is our plan, we hold on to it with patience and persistence - and those who have a long-term plan can survive crises.

How do you see perspectives of cooperation between Germany and Georgia against fight with the virus?

Our longstanding cooperation is already bearing fruit - I am pleased that the National Center for Disease Control has received material for the production of tests from its Munich partners on several occasions. Tests are crucial to isolate the epidemic. We are working on further support measures for the Georgian institutions. By the way, Germany and Georgia have been working closely together as part of a biosecurity program since 2013 to reduce biological risks and strengthen detection and diagnostic capabilities.

In the fight against the Corona crisis, it will now be very important that the EU and its partners work closely together to quickly get the economy back on track in all of our countries. The European Commission has already launched three large aid packages for the Eastern partners here, Georgia alone receiving several hundred million euros from this. I am sure that a lot of work will still be necessary. We should be as consistent and ambitious in the fight against the economic consequences as we are in the fight against the virus itself. Georgia can rely on its friends.

Ioane Shaishmelashvili, Editor in Chief

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