Shaping the post-COVID recovery to forge the Future of Europe - What Europe's leading business associations are thinking about the year ahead

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European entrepreneurs are firmly convinced that despite current challenges, the COVID-19 crisis presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the EU, as history shows that large-scale crises force us to significantly rethink and create opportunities to rebuild better and put Europe on the path of a sustainable, green and digital recovery.

In the past year, many companies struggled to implement tactics to build resilience into their organizations to survive short-term perils, while not losing sight of long-term growth and investment strategies.

It is therefore crucial to restore sound business conditions for companies to grow again, while restructuring and developing new resilience. In two meetings, the EESC Employers' Group met with the heads of Brussels's leading business organisations to exchange views on priorities for what is likely to be a difficult year ahead and to discuss how business can shape the post-COVID recovery to forge the Future of Europe. 

The meetings took place with Mr Beyrer - Director General of BusinessEurope, Mr Butters - CEO of Eurochambres, Mr Pekka Pesonen - Secretary General of Copa-Cogeca, Ms Valeria Ronzitti - Secretary General of SGI Europe, Mr Christian Verschueren - Director-General of EuroCommerce and Ms Willems - Secretary General of SMEunited.

There was clear agreement that Europe is still far away from being on a path to "post-COVID" and businesses are under an enormous pressure. European support measures have to continue until there are real and prolonged signs of a stable recovery. Entrepreneurs must get the money they were promised, as they are rebuilding new business operations around this support.

The national recovery and resilience plans will be a once in a lifetime opportunity for crucial investments in Member States. To make full use of this opportunity, business organisations have to be included in defining the priorities and in monitoring the implementation of the national recovery plans. A cooperation of regional, national and European actors would provide the proper framework. For the future, a balance between reforms and investments is necessary to make Europe's economies more resilient.

As we move towards a new economic ecosystem, SMEs particularly have to be supported if  we want to prevent the weakening of  the backbone of the EU economy.  To help SMEs survive and recover from the COVID19 pandemic, SME-friendly policy-making has to become the norm, solutions to SME's indebtedness have to be found and a SME champion needs to finally be appointed.

Climate neutrality and digital leadership will not be an easy task for Europe, but European companies are ready to take on the challenge. The money of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) will be instrumental to deliver upon the twin transitions, also as the investment capacity has been weakened through the crisis – especially for SMEs.

Indeed, European companies have the research and the technological solutions to help our continent become a leading independent actor in the digital field. However, investment remains the missing parameter in the equation, while upskilling and reskilling remains a consistent challenge for companies and governments alike.

Likewise, for the Green Deal to succeed, it needs to enhance competitiveness, also for small companies. Therefore, much more thinking needs to be brought in the implementation, for example its intrinsic link to taxonomy.

EU employers have finally underlined that the race towards establishing the most economic sustainable business model is on between the EU, China and the US, but it cannot turn into a war. A resilient Europe, is a global Europe. Europe must resist protectionist measures and promote trade agreements to open up new space for companies.  It is clear that Europe has no other option than the one to compete.

From the debates held, the EESC Employers' Group and its partner organisations stressed the urgency to creating a European business ecosystem that provides opportunities for companies to grow, boost jobs and create prosperity for all. With  the right legislative proposals, European entrepreneurs will be able to tackle challenges successfully and together construct a sustainable recovery.