The Covid-19 outbreak has turned into a fast-moving emergency, figures and measures are constantly changing across Europe and the world, affecting all levels of society.
Not since the end of the Second World War, has the global community faced such a dramatic crisis. No government in Europe or elsewhere can possibly think to solve such a pandemic alone. All Member States must come together, to support each other and to coordinate a concerted action. A piecemeal approach by the individual Member States is a sure recipe for disaster. If we get this wrong, we may not have another opportunity to get it right.
While our thoughts go to those who have been directly affected by the pandemic, we pay tribute to the many people, not only in the health sector, that are fighting against the Covid-19, displaying courage and an unbelievable sense of responsibility. Their efforts have to be supported and praised, while guaranteeing health and safety measures for all of them.
In the past three weeks, EU institutions have worked around the clock to deliver an emergency plan. They have taken ground-breaking decisions to fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and after some initial hesitation it has proven that Member States can simply not do without a coherent, coordinated approach when faced with a global threat.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has been active in providing advice and input, first by promptly issuing a statement, adopted by written procedure by the bureau with full support of the Groups, and second by responding to the European Parliament’s request to contribute with three opinions to the extraordinary plenary of 26 March. I have also been personally active and reactive with a number of other statements pushing for a #whateverittakes attitude in line with the EESC positions.
The EU has changed its economic rules, which until now seemed to be set in stone. It has activated the general escape clause of the Stability and Growth Pact. It has granted additional flexibility concerning the existing state aid rules. It has amended the regulation on airport slots and it has extended the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund to include health emergencies, even though it does not go far enough in defining specific operations that are eligible for funding to tackle the pandemic crisis, as the EESC has underlined in its opinion.
On top of this, a full array of financial support has been put in place in a fast and coordinated manner at European level: €750bn from the European Central Bank, an additional €40bn of loans from the European Investment Bank and the €37bn put on the table by the European Commission through the Structural Funds.
The last European Council, despite the commitment of many heads of State and Government, has not delivered what it should have. At the time of writing, the Eurogroup has two weeks to come up with a plan.
These are extraordinary times, causing unbearable pressure on EU citizens, companies and workers, who rightly fear for their health, their jobs and the future of their children. These moments call for a unanimous act of courage from all.
63 years ago, the founding nations of the European Union signed the Treaty of Rome and made a dream come true: a united continent, founded on a shared vision, on shared principles and a common destiny.
This time it is not about creating the Union, it is about saving it. We must be able to respond to urgencies. The EESC called for a full recovery plan, of the scale of the Marshall plan or the New Deal.
As President, I count on all the members to provide input via the groups and the sections to help craft scenarios and tools to tackle this crisis. The options are many, even though they are not fully articulated: ESM credit lines, ‘corona-bonds’, a euro-area Treasury, and even one-off joint expenditures.
The global recovery effort will require all parts of society to work together. Being a consultative body, representing European organized civil society, we have a duty to help carve new solutions in the spirit of a renewed EU solidarity.
Cover photo: Luca Jahier, President of the European Economic and Social Committee