AS Covid-19 infection rates fall across the European Union and member states move tentatively towards easing lockdown measures, governments and citizens across the bloc are reflecting on the handling of the crisis so far.

The pandemic has undeniably generated some of the toughest challenges the EU has ever faced. Border checks have re-appeared in the Schengen Area, countries have been accused of hoarding PPE, and fears about the prospects of economic recovery have re-inforced old animosities between northern and southern states, still lingering since the 2008 financial crisis.

In an unusually frank move in April, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen extended a “heartfelt apology” to Italy on behalf of the rest of Europe, admitting it was not offered the assistance it needed during the pandemic. She followed her remarks with an assertion that Europe had nevertheless become “the world’s beating heart of solidarity” in its efforts to address the crisis.

This is perhaps more ambitious than factual, but it is far from baseless. Joint medical procurement has taken place, member states have welcomed patients from neighbouring countries and the continent’s borders are fast re-opening.

A proposed €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund to provide grants and loans to the continent’s worst-hit countries has met some resistance from northern states but has been generally well received.

A sceptical Denmark relaxed its position on possible grants last week, while its partners in the so-called “frugal four” (Austria, the Netherlands and Sweden) have also expressed willingness to negotiate the proposal.

And for all its faults, there lies the strength of the EU – negotiation. It’s slow, it’s cumbersome, it’s boring, but it’s effective. For all the excitement that inter-European disagreement generates among the more Eurosceptic elements of the British press (the claims of shattered unity, the tales of new EU exit demands, the clumsy-looking efforts to validate the UK’s decision to leave the club) the way in which the EU accepts disagreement, embraces it and channels it, is one of its greatest strengths.

Disagreement is natural. Little illustrates that better than the centuries of warfare that afflicted Europe before the establishment of the EU’s precursor, the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952.

In a multinational bloc, constant consensus is impossible. However, the talks and tussles between EU member states are proof, not that the peoples of Europe have incompatible goals and that the EU is doomed to failure but rather, that the Union is structured in such a way as to ensure no particular country is able to bulldoze its preferences through and force them upon the others.

Contrast that reality with what we see in the UK. Negotiation is anathema to the British establishment. The UK does not like it, it is not good at it, and it has rarely had to enter into it on equal terms with anyone.

The National: Boris Johnson

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Subsuming one-quarter of the world into the largest empire the world has ever known doesn’t appear to have been very good training for life as a normal, medium-sized European country. How are the Brexit negotiations going exactly?

Negotiation isn’t especially embraced within the UK either. Mutual respect and dialogue can hardly be said to be a common feature of the relationships between the constituent countries of the Union.

Even Westminster’s first-past-the-post election system is designed specifically to circumvent the need for negotiation, its proponents dressing up the installation of majority governments on minority vote shares as a positive way of ensuring quick and decisive decision-making. How’s that working out for the good people of Scotland? It is regularly claimed in certain quarters that being a part of the UK gives Scotland a stronger voice on the international stage. Does it though? The UK voice might well be a loud one but to what extent do Scottish needs and priorities feature in what it says?

The UK has made itself the laughing stock of the world in recent years, shouting about the need for a Brexit the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland decisively rejected and upon which the governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have had no say. There’s a loud voice on the international stage alright, but it’s not ours. Where’s the negotiation? Where’s the consensus? Where’s the hope of anything better?

The EU is far from perfect, but it is a work in progress. Can the same be said of the UK? A new future is certainly under construction at Westminster, but for a work in progress it doesn’t look very progressive.

While the EU member states come together to recover from the Covid crisis and improve the lives of their citizens, the UK Government struggles, unilaterally, to realise a vision for the future that is paradoxically modelled almost entirely on a warped view of the past -- a corrupted pastiche that few of us north of the Border aspire to.

The European project was born of a crisis and built on hope – an experiment in peace-building on mutually beneficial terms. It emerges from this latest crisis battered, but still hopeful for the future. By contrast, the UK is on course to charge from this crisis, straight into the next, destroying its reputation as it desperately strives to recreate a feeling of global dominance long since lost.

With the worst of Brexit yet to come, Scotland faces challenging times, but we still have reason to be hopeful for the future. Let’s take a leaf out of the EU’s book. Better still, let’s help write it.