Coping with Covid19 – Letter from a Brussels Lockdown

Photo by frankieleon on Flickr CC BY 2.0

It’s Friday morning as I write this – I cannot remember our street ever so calm. But the city is not dead. People are very disciplined, lining up with 3 m distance in long ques at the supermarket. Inside they have to keep 4m distance from each other. People over 65 have the first hour in the morning, so as to be as safe as can when leaving their house. Brussels is in the grip of the virus, as most European cities.

In our part of the street, some 100 meters, live 21 nationalities – we counted that at our last summer street festival, sharing food from across the world. Now we share our songs at 8 pm from our balconies, giving applause to the doctors and nurses trying to save lives. We are all Italians at this moment. We know we are just at the beginning of a huge challenge. We have no idea what is still to come. We are disciplined, we communicate through web and phone. We take care for others where we can.

Where is Europe in all this? All EU Institutions are shut down for over a week now. No meetings at all until a new order is established. Home offices for the staff, with  just the very top level meetings via video conferences.  News comes  from the national capitals, almost all about closing something: borders, airports, schools, universities, anything where people could get together. It all seems reasonable given the rate of infections. Europe takes distance.

What is worrying is the tone in many national media that the problem lies on the other side of the border, the blame game and our people first attitude. It is not new, just worse. Our European societies now experience extreme vulnerability and insecurity in all spheres of life. And the first reflex of most governments is to shut down borders against neighbors. The virus does not respect that. It arrives a few weeks later with the same effect everywhere. If we do not live European solidarity now and after corona there will be no European project left. It will take more than billions to save the economy.

We at ARC and Forum Synergies, our partners and friends, wish to offer a place for keeping in touch and live the European spirit and solidarity in practical terms. We will collect and share your ideas and practices for these new and troubled times. And we will keep pressing for the policy shift needed when we can stretch out again into post corona times. Climate change and biodiversity loss goes on. It does not wait until we have settled our battle with the virus. 

Shipping news from China suggests that cargo is almost back to pre- corona levels, and the government is loosening environmental rules to catch up with former growth. We hear that the Green deal and other environmental rules should also be softened to allow our economies to catch up. With what? Our governments currently promise to save their companies and people first in order to avoid total chaos and despair. But without new rules and principles for saving our economies, including resilient farming and food systems, there will be even more insecurity and vulnerability not only for the elder population.

Our editor Oliver Moore has more on this, in a long read which references many of the approaches and strategies people have used or suggested in recent times, to manage the coming era. Take you time, have a read, there’s plenty in there

Coping with Covid19 – Learning From Then and Now

ARC wants to keep our and your minds open for what we can do together in Europe. We will exchange whatever it takes on our website and via social media.

We prepare for a participative video conference, on future farming, rural development and food policies. We hope to set it up in April, if the virus allows us.  We had started a European process of debate in January this year on the future of rural Europe with Dacian Ciolos, former Commissioner for Agriculture and other high level EU participants. We hope to be able to have them gathered again with civil society to look into the steps needed to catch up with realities. We will try to include a wide range of civil society including our European neighbors not yet or not more being part of a Union. We need to get much closer in times of too much distance.

Rural Europe: Which Way to Go?


These calm days my wife and I have our hands in the ground in our garden in the heart of Brussels. We have seeds from across Europe which I gathered from the many meetings with European seed savers and gardener friends. This is the moment of applause to them!

I am grateful of having this privilege and it will be a pleasure to share what will grow at our street festival in summer. We cannot feed ourselves here but we may share what nature gives us, just as we share our songs this evening at 8 on the balcony.


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About Hannes Lorenzen 44 Articles

Hannes Lorenzen was senior adviser to the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg from 1985 to 2019. Before starting his career in the European institutions, he carried out research, coordination and evaluation work on rural development projects with the Technical Service of the German Government. On the international level Hannes Lorenzen is co-founder of Genetic Resources Action International ( and co-president of the European Rural Development Network Forum Synergies ( He is also co-founder of PREPARE, the "Partnership for Rural Europe" network for Central and Eastern European Member States (, serving as chairman and president until 2016. He co-founded ARC2020 and is its president since 2016. Closer to home, Hannes chairs a local rural development organization on his home island of Pellworm in North Friesland, Germany, which works o organic farming, renewable energy production, soft tourism and nature protection projects in a local dimension.

Hannes Lorenzen a été conseiller auprès de la Commission de l’Agriculture et du Développement Rural du Parlement Européen à Bruxelles et à Strasbourg de 1985 à 2019. Avant d’entamer sa carrière au sein des institutions européennes, il a effectué des travaux de recherche, de coordination et d’évaluation de projets de développement rural au sein du service coopération du gouvernement allemand. Au niveau international, Hannes LORENZEN est co-fondateur de Forum Synergies, réseau européen de développement rural ( Il a cofondé ARC2020 et en est le président depuis 2016. Hannes préside aussi une organisation locale de développement rural sur son île natale de PELLWORM, en Allemagne. Cette organisation travaille sur des projets d’agriculture biologique, de production d’énergie renouvelable, de tourisme doux et de protection de la nature à l’échelle locale. Sur l’île il est aussi engagé avec des jeunes agriculteurs dans le développement et la reproduction des semences paysannes en bio et la biodiversité en agriculture. Hannes a toujours vu l’agriCulture française au cœur de l’intégration européenne. L’amour et le respect des français pour leurs paysans et l’appréciation de la “bonne bouffe” ont aussi été une flammèche pour se lancer dans cette nouvelle aventure du projet “La résilience de nos compagnes” de ARC2020. Même si un petit virus empêche Hannes de voyager pour l’instant, il est déjà en route pour rencontrer plein de monde qui bouge pour une transition juste et attirante…