The Covid 19 pandemic has set the rhythm for the entire year. This will remain the case at least in 2021.
 It is by no means only because of Covid-19 that many neuralgic aspects of the digital age have become the focus of attention.
 For the future history of democracy, 2020 will also prove to be a decisive year (Covid-19 and fundamental rights; Poland and Hungary; Belarus; Hong Kong; USA).
4] For the EU, 2020 was a year in which partly hidden, but also less hidden creative strengths were revealed, while at the same time it was confirmed once again that it is still unable to play a pacifying and creative role in international conflicts that take place in its immediate neighbourhood.
I Covid-19 Truths
5] The pandemic has brought to light the interconnected dependencies in our lives. It has exposed how little is taken for granted in what is otherwise perceived as normal everyday life. At first, the global supply chains were the focus of attention. Although some of these had functioned smoothly for decades, they were now questioned because of some disruptions in supply and the undoubted dependencies were assessed negatively, as in the case of mouth and nose masks and medicines in general. Disruptions in supply operations have raised the question of whether many more products would not have to be manufactured entirely in Europe again to ensure security of supply.
6] Behind this is another problem: no one outside of the sciences and health experts wanted to deal thoroughly with the question of pandemic preparedness ‚in quiet times‘. There was no such blindness with regard to oil and gas reserves. Why pandemic unpreparedness? And one must add: Why are hardly any precautions taken against the consequences of rapid climate change?
7] We contemporaries need to be more concerned with the likely impairments of our lives and less focused on consumption and amenities of all kinds. Above all, it is about answering the question of how we can maintain mobility, fluidity of everyday life and interconnectedness – despite pandemics, despite climate change. If all this were to be permanently damaged, it would quickly lead to social unrest and rapidly increasing violence in society, because prosperity would noticeably decrease and inequalities would increase even further.
 On the human level, the phased restriction of social contacts has shown their value in sometimes a completely new light. The fact that the everyday and self-evident was no longer everyday and self-evident has illuminated how precarious in reality many things are that normally go the way they do.
9] The term „system relevance„, which wass quickly hurled into the public discourse and is meant to be exclusive, pushes a completely different realisation into the background, namely that the interconnected chains and the resulting networking (which is not meant to be digital here) result in almost everything being system relevant. As soon as the self-organising everyday world, which is obviously much more self-organising than the daily flood of laws would suggest, is interfered with in order to slow down the spread of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, activities are shifted, the loss of options for behaviour and action is compensated for by others, which are then prohibited again, and so on.
10] The concept of systemic relevance has given some professions – in hospitals, emergency services, supermarkets, etc. – the public recognition they deserve. But does it take a word that divides the world into systemic and non-systemic to give respect and recognition to the people who do their jobs? Does it take a pandemic to realise that supermarket workers deserve respect?
11] In other words, the pandemic has exposed the everyday contempt with which many are treated. This can also be felt elsewhere at any time, when onlookers obstruct the rescue forces at accidents, film with their mobile phones and become aggressive when they have to make way. In the end, everyone depends on everyone else. The public spirit should be strengthened, not nationalism.
12] The pandemic has made public that culture (in the narrower sense of theatre, music, etc.) is just as systemically relevant as anything else. Some people were astonished at how many positive things children and young people think of schools; their closure due to the pandemic has clearly brought the positive assessments to light.
 The pandemic has released a lot of positive energy, but it has also brought out many ugly sides.
14] In the European countries, there is basically a consensus that everything must be done to avoid exceeding the limits of the capacity of the health system, more specifically of the hospitals, because this would lead to many more deaths than is already the case. Every life threatened by Sars-CoV-2 is being fought for, and this is ultimately a task for society as a whole, to which everyone can, should and must contribute through appropriate behaviour.
15] After this had been the core of the pandemic news for most of the year, a transfer of experience and knowledge should now be initiated, because the responsibility for the life of the other always exists. The statistics published in news programmes, newspapers and other media on mortality and excess mortality due to covid-19 drew further information – for example, about the high number of deaths that can be attributed to the permanent fine dust pollution in the air year after year. Everyone contributes to this, which means that everyone can also reduce her or his share.
16] The pandemic could not have been prevented, so it is good to see what can be learned from it. One would be to raise awareness of the existence of a moral imperative that I must examine my own actions to see what, at the end of the chain of interconnectedness, indirect lethal effect they may have on others. Thus, not only do I have a human right to health well-being, but so does everyone else. The fact that they can exercise this right in practice depends on everyone.
17] All in all, no government in Europe has been convincing. Of course, this is difficult when many experiences have to be made for the first time and many things remain unpredictable. Nevertheless, some aspects have to be critically examined. For example, families have been passed the buck without a second thought: Teleworking from home, if necessary child(ren) in distance learning also at home, everything without preparation; caring relatives left alone, little help with psychological stress due to the reduction to one’s own four walls – the list could be very long. On the other hand, the responsible authorities were quick to impose penalties, some of which were illegal. The balance is not right.
18] The pandemic has shown that what parties and certain politicians have been touting as family policy for years has so far failed to take into account the development of the living world and has been shaped by intellectual failures (obviously outdated romantic family fantasies) that the question of concrete responsibility must be asked. One keyword here is „digital humanism“.
[see also Corona, Democracy and Virtue].
II Digital Age – Digital Humanism
 Digital humanism sounds a bit fashionable at first, in German the term only appeared 12-13 years ago, in English a bit earlier, but until today one can hardly speak of „in use“.
20] Nevertheless, it addresses central issues: The digitalisation of the living world must (be able to) be guided by ethical principles, it must actually benefit people – that is, the factual priorities in digitalisation must be reviewed and corrected if necessary.
 For years, people raved about the Internet of Things, but the question of its meaningfulness was not answered in a sustainable way. Covid-19 has proven that these were wrong priorities because the ethical-philosophical complex addressed by „digital humanism“ was neglected.
22] Rather ’simple‘ things would have been in demand: Building and expanding digital material, content, pedagogical and didactic infrastructures for the entire school, education, training and further education sector. Of course, this is not really simple, but more complex than the Internet of Things, but more necessary, more vital.
23] Admittedly, digitalisations in various fields of the living world cross-fertilise each other, just as space travel brings manifold benefits for problem solutions on earth, but this does not exempt the setting of priorities. First the education of people, then the other. Supporting people, families, through professional and digital counselling services first, then the other.
 Digital humanism also refers to the reflection and disclosure of ethical principles, or lack thereof, in the programming of algorithms, all of which intervene in our everyday lives – be it in web searches, be it in public administration, be it in any forecasting, and so on.
25] Cybersecurity can also be seen under the aspect of digital humanism. This plays out at all levels, with the individual users of digital services and applications, with government agencies, with companies. Cybersecurity is a task for society as a whole, and it cannot be dealt with by individual states. Doing what is necessary and not leaving anyone behind is digital humanism.
26] Data protection, the problem that has been recognised by everyone for the longest time, is another aspect of digital humanism. What is good or not good for each individual? This is a question that all stakeholders must ask themselves, digital companies as well as authorities, governments, the EU.
27] For too long, philosophy and ethics have been neglected in relation to the specifics of the digital age. There is a need to catch up here. This is shown not least by the misuse of the web, especially social media, for hate speech and threats as well as for the dissemination of unverified „facts“, conspiracy ideologies and the like. Irresponsibility must have consequences.
28] Even if the term „digital age“ is rather fuzzy, it may help to raise awareness. We need to orient our social, economic, cultural thinking more towards the comprehensive digitality that constitutes the Digital Age in order not to be left behind by the momentum of the processes.
 The pandemic has raised human and fundamental rights issues. Such rights were mostly curtailed without public debate in the spring of 2020. Few governments addressed and problematised this on their own; most did not see citizens with rights before them, but only subjects. The legal culture as a whole has suffered.
30] It is indisputable that emergencies can lead to the restriction of fundamental rights, but the nonchalance with which this has sometimes happened has exposed the disturbing fact that while governments in Europe have emerged predominantly from democratic elections, they also include members of government who have no substance in terms of democratic, constitutional and fundamental rights content. All this does not interest them. Many courts have had to correct many things. Legislation was carried out sloppily several times (e.g. in Austria).
31] European democracy gives the impression, more than ever, of standing on feet of clay. Throwing democratic principles overboard as soon as a serious situation arises can only fill one with unease. The problem will not be solved by dealing with the pandemic through mass vaccination. The consequences of climate change will be felt more and more acutely, even in the rich, relatively secure countries such as Europe; there will be very serious situations. What will then become of fundamental rights?
32] Compliance with democratic and fundamental principles is as much the responsibility of citizens as it is of the state and companies. The right to freedom of expression, e.g. in the form of demonstrations, will be eroded if organisers and demonstrators deliberately disregard hygiene and distance rules that are easy to observe in times of pandemic, thus expressing their contempt for the rights of others.
33] At the same time, democracy is being challenged in completely different areas. There is still terrorism – both France and Austria are struggling with laws suitable for the rule of law. There is the ongoing rule of law problem in Hungary and Poland, where two parties and their leaders confuse state and party. Fidesz and PiS make their parties the state, the state the property of the party. They do not shy away from incitement against people of diverse sexual orientation, nor from instrumentalising scientific institutions for their ideologically based politics of history, nor from undermining the power of the judiciary.
 It was illuminating to see how cavalierly leading members of PiS in Poland and Orbán in Hungary publicly spoke out against the rule of law standard in the allocation of EU funds to combat the consequences of the pandemic. After both governments emphasised until the autumn of 2020 that the constitutional restructuring they brought about served the rule of law, this positioning has now been dropped. Otherwise, it would not have made sense to oppose a matter of course in the EU with such publicity.
 Although the trend of strengthening more moderate parties from 2019 continued in the EU in 2020, the EU’s passivity towards Belarus and Hong Kong has arguably done little to strengthen democracy. Admittedly, there is also a lack of pressure from civil society here, which does little for the democracy movements in the two countries, nor in others.
36] As long as civil society, which in principle has European networks at its disposal, does not sit at the table as the 28th EU member, so to speak, little progress will be made. In other words, the EU needs to invest more in developing democracy by breaking new ground.
 Trust in the police and security authorities has suffered in 2020. In the majority of cases of terrorist attacks, the perpetrators had already come to the attention of the authorities beforehand, some of them classified as dangerous. Nevertheless, the discussion about what could actually be improved remains superficial.
38] Similar to the USA, racially motivated police violence has manifested itself again and again in Europe. The responsible interior ministers find it difficult to take countermeasures, even though the majority of police officers condemn it as much as most people.
39] The increase in anti-Semitism and anti-Semitically motivated violence could not be stopped in 2020. More and more violence is breaking out.
[see also Corona Pandemic and Democracy].
IV Strengths and weaknesses of the EU
40] Internally, the EU has shown strengths. It had no competence in the fight against the pandemic, but it has been shown that coordination among the EU members is beneficial to all. Forces in research on the virus and vaccines could be better pooled. In autumn, when the „second wave“ of the pandemic was building up, the uncoordinated and damaging mess with border closures in spring was mostly avoided.
 A strength of optimism was displayed when what had previously seemed unlikely was nevertheless proposed and agreed, the 750 billion package to combat the long-term consequences of the pandemic – money that, in the more favourable case, will serve the sustainable conversion of the economy to climate-neutral ways of working and producing, incorporating digitalisation strategies.
42] In terms of EU constitutional history, EU borrowing is of interest because, if it works as intended, it could improve the Union’s willingness to take on more common debt. There are a number of ifs and buts before that, but even a respectable partial success in using the 750 billion would probably promote the economic integration that has been on the agenda since the beginnings of the EU’s predecessor institutions in the 1950s to such an extent that the appetite for more of it could become greater than the misgivings about the so-called „debt union“.
43] The last EU summit of 2020 in December revealed even more strengths. For example, the goal of sustainably reducing Co2 emissions was defined even more ambitiously. This means that it has not yet been implemented, but it was agreed unanimously. Unanimity is often the Achilles‘ heel in the EU, because the necessary compromise is at the bottom, beyond what can still be called „ambition“, but this time unanimity was an expression of strength. That’s it, keep it up!
 The EU Parliament is part of these strengths, its work (of the majority) best corresponds to Article 2 of the Treaty on the EU, which sets out a model of society with a promising future. If the EU Treaty were to be renegotiated today, in 2020 or 2021, it would be questionable whether such an Article 2 could come about again. This makes the position of the majority of the EU Parliament to implement the article all the more important.
45] Franco-German cooperation in favour of the EU, and sometimes a certain division of labour, can also be described as strong. The division of labour has resulted from the different political working methods of Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. Macron hardly has the patience for compromise; his strength is provocation, stirring up taboos, combined with developing design principles for the future of the EU. Merkel’s strength is negotiating all night long, finding compromises, the gift of sparing the other party a humiliation that can be achieved cheaply even in the case of clear differences of substance, as in the case of the rule of law, because nothing grows politically from humiliation.
46] The EU needs both, it is good for it – which does not mean that the President of the Commission, the President of the European Council and many others would not do their bit to solve the problem.
 All in all, the year 2020 seems to have brought new momentum to the EU internally.
48] Weaknesses exist externally. In the conflict- and violence-ridden events on the southern and eastern external borders of the EU and in the close neighbourhood such as Armenia/Azerbaijan, the EU has no power to shape events. In principle, it is right that the EU avoids burning all bridges with aggressors like the President of Turkey, because this does not solve a single problem. It is also right that the EU, as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, unlike Turkey, the USA and Russia, does not intervene militarily in conflicts but, if it does, then limits itself to participating in peacekeeping measures, flanked by humanitarian support and efforts to introduce more legality into the behaviour of actors.
49] The weakness of the EU partly results from the fact that foreign policy has remained predominantly a national prerogative. But would it become a „diplomatic giant“ if it were otherwise?
 Macron is pushing the issue of „European sovereignty“ (economic, monetary, defence, foreign policy, scientific, digital). This is the most realistic approach at the moment, but ultimately aims at defensive autarky. Not depending on the USA, not depending on China, not depending on anyone. Where and how far would this take the EU? The question is still open. None of this answers the question of how far the EU has fallen short of its possibilities to do something for the democracy movements in Belarus and Hong Kong.
Recommended citation (paragraphs are numbered in square brackets for citation purposes): Wolfgang Schmale: Europe 2020 – A Review. In: Wolfgang Schmale: Blog „Mein Europa“, wolfgangschmale.eu/europe-2020-review, entry 21.12.2020 [paragraph no.].