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GLOBE Online Panel: What is Global Governance in the Time of COVID-19?


The world has been hit by the most serious public health crisis of the last 100 years: the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left many nations and economies on hold. The disruptive outbreak of COVID-19 and the ensuing global crisis continue to send shockwaves across the planet. COVID-19 reminds us of the dangers posed by global systemic risks to the protection and safeguarding of human life in our ever more global civilisation. It also exposes a basic contradiction between an enormously complex planetary ecosystem and our still dominant form of political organisation: a fragmented system of sovereign states.

In this online panel, four global governance (GG) experts from Asia, Latin America and Europe discussed how GG has dealt with the pandemic and the expected successes and failures as a result. The panel also discussed how the pandemic has shaped the current dynamics of GG and to what extent this contributes to transforming global decision-making structures in different GG institutions, such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or World Health Organisation (WHO).

Chaired by Jacint Jordana, Director of the Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals (IBEI), the scholars highlighted several pertinent issues in their interventions. You will find the full recording of the session below.

Tom Pegram, Deputy Director of the UCL Global Governance Institute, reminded the audience that COVID-19 was not a Black Swan event, given previous pandemics. Yet, there is considerable variation in how different countries managed the impact, which does not seem to reflect the level of preparedness, but rather the success or failure in implementing preventive measures. At the global level, COVID-19 exposed severe weaknesses in the design of WHO, its limited competences and resources.

Sukmawani Bela Pertiwi, faculty member at Bina Nusantara University, Indonesia, gave an overview of the changes in global health governance currently underway in light of the evolving crisis. While the role of the WHO has declined in terms of financial assistance compared to previous outbreaks (SARS in 2002 and MERS in 2012), she also observes a shift away from a scientific, evidence-based policy-making to a more economic approach.

Diana Tussie from FLASCO Argentina and Senior Researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research focused her remarks on the increased competition between nationalism and international cooperation that COVID-19 has brought to light. This is further aggravated by heightened geopolitical competition. Whereas the free trade principle used to drive much of international cooperation, it may well be that global health cooperation takes over this function.

Jan Wouters, Full Professor of International Law and International Organizations and founding Director of the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, criticized the complacent role of the WHO in pointing out global health issues pertaining from China’s response to the virus. Touching upon the weak and contested competencies of the European Union, he underscored some of the challenges that the European Commission will face vis-à-vis Member States as it continues to build up its Corona response.

In their remarks, the speakers also highlighted the importance of the private sector, from vaccine research to supply-chain management to tackling online disinformation, the constructive role of the EU in global governance, and the implications of protectionist measures such as border closures.