Coronavirus will change our societies for the better

By Adam Rogalewski

The outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) will profoundly change our lives and will also change our countries, economies and societies. It has already made us realise how vulnerable we are despite the enormous improvements in our living conditions over the years, and technological progress, including digitalisation and artificial intelligence. We have also learnt, by staying isolated in our homes, just how important other people and society are to our daily lives. The coronavirus crisis very clearly invalidates the neo-liberal narrative that there is no such thing as society. At times of crisis like the one we are now witnessing, it is society, or in other words, people's solidarity, that can protect us from the effects of the virus.

The pandemic has changed our perspective on work. We have realised that some workers and professions that were previously perceived as being less important are in fact crucial for the functioning of our economies. These include not just health workers, who are putting their lives at risk and working round the clock to provide care, and care workers looking after the elderly, but also so-called less qualified grocery store workers, drivers, cleaners and agricultural workers, who provide us with essential goods and services. Many of these are migrants who have been perceived as a burden on societies and used as scapegoats in many countries and by many populist parties. Yet we have learnt that, without them, our societies would not be able to tackle the pandemic.

The coronavirus outbreak has eliminated differences between typical, atypical and self- employed workers. We have come to understand that all type of work is essential and all workers, even micro-entrepreneurs, contribute to our economies and equally need state support.

And it is this intervention from the state, which is able to protect workers and entrepreneurs, that plays a key role in tackling the pandemic. More than ever we need a strong and democratically controlled state that can deliver public services and protect the economy. The emphasis should be on a democratically controlled state and its government to avoid a situation like the one in Hungary, where recently adopted measures establishing a state of emergency cannot guarantee that the basic principles of democracy will be upheld. The crisis has also demonstrated the social partners' essential role in developing policies that tackle the coronavirus outbreak. Sadly, in my own country, MPs seemed to forget this when they recently adopted an act introducing regulations that are not related to the pandemic but that are aimed at restricting the role of social dialogue and the independence of the social partners.

The coronavirus crisis has made the EU more responsive to the public's needs. For example, the Commission recently proposed an instrument worth EUR 100 billion to support short-term work arrangements and mitigate unemployment risks (SURE). There is, however, a danger that the individual interests of Member States will prevail over EU solidarity. This is of particular importance for the countries with less advanced economies and social safety nets, which will require more economic support.

As shown above, the coronavirus outbreak has allowed us to reassess our societies, economies and the EU institutions, something which otherwise would not have been possible. We have recognised the importance of every worker, even those perceived to be less qualified, the importance of society as opposed to neo-liberal individualistic ideologies, the importance of investing in the public sector and, finally, the crucial role of democracy and social dialogue. I firmly believe that we will not forget the lessons learnt in this crisis and that we will build a better future after coronavirus, a future that makes Europe and the world a better place for everyone.