Coping with COVID-19 crisis: workers' response

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Workers' Group President Oliver Röpke at EESC Plenary in EP
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Brussels, 20/06/2019 EESC : Plenary Session DAY 2 Pix : ROPKE Credit : Isopix / Laurie Dieffembacq

The world is experiencing its biggest crisis in peacetime in the last 90 years. If the European Central Bank’s estimates are correct, the depression will mean a loss of 15% of Europe’s GDP, three times the magnitude of the 2008 crisis. According to some projections, up to 55 million jobs are at risk in the EU, some of them to be lost forever. In particular, the ones without any safety net: precarious, platform workers, self-employed, etc.

The impact of the virus is putting health systems across Europe under enormous strain, a blow exacerbated by the inequalities among countries and health systems in terms of staff, hospital capacity, but also of citizens and their capacity to lead a healthy life and have access to quality services. This crisis is of a different nature than previous ones, and it requires a different mix and timing of policy responses; the spread of the virus is not a national problem, affecting the whole of Europe and beyond. However, during the crisis, member states have failed to coordinate, and the EU response arrived late and was insufficient, only exacerbating the problems derived by its lack of competences on the field of public health. The single market, meanwhile, has been exposed as vulnerable, with the European Commission having to intervene to ensure the transport of goods.

To overcome the current crisis, and to be prepared for any other that might come, Europe must focus its effort to rebuild its social, political and economic structure on four criteria: Solidarity, sustainability, safeguarding employment and income and participation. Solidarity is the first of these. Any action taken to overcome the present crisis must be based on European approach with the respect of common principles and values. Solidarity among Member States was and is fundamental for the future of Europe. Sustainability means taking economic, social and environmental considerations on investment and policy, in order not to return to the pre-crisis state, but to develop profound and lasting reforms in the economic system. Safeguarding employment and income for all workers is a priority and we need to shape today’s policies with a long-term perspective.  The EU needs a strong European social recovery and reconstruction strategy at EU and national levels with active involvement of social partners, safeguarding workers’ rights to invigorate the economy again and ensuring well-being for all. The Social Agenda must complement and complete the Single Market. Business as usual can no longer be a political option to address the effects of the crisis. Participation of all citizens, individually or through the organizations of the social partners and of the civil society, will make this process of reforming the economy and society possible. Therefore, member states and the EU must ensure that in this complex process no one is left behind.

The stronger, the more inclusive, the more social and the more sustainable the recovery measures are and the more they are tailored to the situation of the Member States and their populations, the more credible Europe will be and the more capable to rise to the unprecedented challenges we face in this crisis. Europe has now the possibility and the opportunity to build another world.

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Coping with COVID-19 crisis: workers' response