The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) discusses the European Union post-coronavirus and the urgent choices to be made to support future generations
Making Europe safe must be priority number one for the future of the EU after the Covid-19 pandemic. EESC president Luca Jahier has flagged up the urgent need for a strategic review of EU policies, and, in a webinar organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the Italian National Council for Economics and Labour (CNEL) on 15 May 2020, pointed out that the EU must take action on two fronts. On one hand, Europe must invest more in growth and support for an environmentally and technologically just transition, while, on the other, it must ensure a greater presence on the international scene.
We need, first and foremost, a broad and unprecedented strategy to make Europe safe again. Safety is becoming the primary real issue. This should include a plan for the EU to lead a new era of multilateralism so that the world is safe again. Europe has a dual responsibility: not only to face the pandemic and the unprecedented economic crisis but also to lead,he said.
Mr Jahier discussed the right policy choices to be made to future-proof the next generations, with Romano Prodi, former Italian prime minister and commission president, Emma Bonino, senator and former Italian minister of foreign affairs and EU commissioner, and Tiziano Treu, president of the Italian National Council for Economics and Labour (CNEL). The online debate was moderated by Daniela Vincenti, the EESC president's spokesperson.
All commentators agreed on the emergence of some common features, and on proposals for the EU's future after the pandemic: the model of Europe must be changed, the digital divide has become an element of social inequality, the third sector has provided support but is not integrated in the national system, new forms of "emergency law" have been adopted and modified the institutional balance and, finally, a form of public-private cooperation is needed for the recovery.
More specifically, Mr Jahier highlighted that a European strategy should be put in place, starting with a strong EU health programme for citizens, followed by an efficient recovery plan, touching on the protection of workers, companies and communities. He also reaffirmed the importance of the commitment to achieving a sustainable Europe (as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said, "Sooner or later we will find the vaccine for Covid-19, but for climate change there is no vaccine"), to catching up in the industrial and digital sectors and, last but not least, to securing a new global agenda with a strong EU-Africa partnership at its core.
On the same page was Mr Prodi, who indicated that it was not possible to have a good EU health policy without a real EU global policy:
We can rely on globalisation, because it has improved the world economy but we also need some sort of sufficient minimum strategy. We have to do it: Europe cannot depend on China or the USA for basic things, like materials for testing. We are on the eve of a change, we must have a European industrial policy, because we don't have one at the moment, we only have agreements but not a policy. If we do, we will make clear progress. We need to be active members of globalisation. Instead of Union of diversity, I prefer the definition of Union of minorities. We need a political balance within our Union, otherwise solidarity disappears. Politics is made of balance.
Ms Bonino also pointed to the need for a common EU health policy, stressing that it was not a new idea, but had already been advocated by Robert Schuman and Altiero Spinelli. She added that a new concept of globalisation should underpin the recovery plan:
What Europe has to do depends on the vision Member States have. Globalisation is here to stay, so we can try to make it better. It has to be preserved and be more balanced but, luckily, it is not going to disappear, because no relevant issue can be dealt with on a national level. The world is changing, the business-as-usual approach is harder and harder to sustain. The recovery plan cannot be a shopping list, some choices have to be made. I just hope that the emotions that have been generated do not subside with the end of the pandemic, but pro-European people and leaders will have to fight strongly.
Finally, Mr Treu emphasised that Europe should not aim to rebuild the same system as before in terms of companies and services, as the future industrial and human landscape would be different, but instead focus on green investments in strategic sectors and on meeting the challenges of new technologies, which may be risky but were also an opportunity to make the transition in our economy:
The crisis has shown us the weaknesses of our care system. We were convinced that it was sound, but we have discovered many weak points. We now have to try to put up a new coordinated strategy at EU level. Not only has the health system been put under stress, but also the welfare system. We need to reinforce our infrastructure, not only the material and technological one, but also our social infrastructure: this means a new way of organising services for people and preparing to respond to new needs that have emerged and will continue in the future.
Concluding on an optimistic note, Mr Jahier put forward the idea of a joined EU-Member States strategy to tackle the challenges of tomorrow's Europe, as now was the right time to set priorities for the future.
If we want to work for the future, we need to be aware of the state of play. At the end of this pandemic, there will be more public and private debt, there may be social tensions, people will feel insecure. There will be a boomerang effect for Europe, unless we stay united. We need a strategy to face this change or there will be a division marking Europe forever. Together we can, together we will do it.