Six months to reflect on the new world we want

Members of the European Council are seen on the screen of a video conference call with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 26 March 2020. [EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON / POOL]

Decision makers should ‘take a breath’ and come up with a comprehensive plan to achieve the digital and green future we want in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, officials and experts insist.

The virus pandemic triggered an unprecedented crisis in Europe, sending millions of Europeans into unemployment and forcing businesses to close down.

EU leaders will try to reach an agreement this month on a fiscal stimulus to overcome the severe downturn and on the seven-year budget for the next period, totalling €1.85 trillion.

EU institutions and member states agree that the digital and sustainable priorities should guide the recovery. But picking flagship priorities is not the end of the story. 

Von der Leyen: 'We now need to build a resilient, green, and digital Europe'

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen believes the “real Europe is standing up” to the coronavirus crisis now. In a written interview with EURACTIV’s media partner Efe, she spoke about a broad range of issues, from the challenges facing the Eurogroup earlier this month to the expectations for the summit of European leaders this week.

Decision makers need to “take a breath, reflect and make a choice” about the kind of recovery we want, Thomas Gageik, Director for Digital Business Solutions at the European Commission (DG DIGIT) said in an online debate organised by EURACTIV.com on 26 June.

“Achieving a digital and sustainable recovery requires us to create comprehensive action plan which pretty much touches every aspect, including social, regulatory or the educational system,” he added. 

“We really have to get that right and we have six months”.

Alison Martin, CEO for Europe, Middle East & Africa and Bank Distribution at Zurich, pointed out that Europe needs to prioritise those areas where the bloc is stronger by being together. “Our power is in being together”, she said, referring not only to the EU institutions  and national authorities but also urging to work with businesses.

This public-private partnership will be important not only to address the “greater threat” of climate change, but also issues emerging from the digital transformation, including the data processing and handling across different industries. 

Veronika Hunt Safrankova, head of Brussels Office at UN Environment, agreed that the role of the digital technology in the coming months and in the long-term economic transformation is “absolutely crucial” to recover “smartly and healthy”.

‘Green’ alert: environmental risks top Davos report

For the first time in the 15-year history of the Davos risk report, the top five global risks are all environmental, according to the latest survey published on Wednesday (15 January) ahead of the World Economic Forum next week.

But the acceleration of digitisation needs to go hand in hand with increased energy efficiency of tech companies, and other specific measures.

For example, limiting the number of video conferences could help to reduce the carbon footprint of meeting platforms like Zoom, one of the most popular services during the ‘great lockdown’.

Stefan Sipka, policy analyst at European Policy Centre (EPC) added that digitisation and the ‘green’ agenda are “very close”. 

The digital pillar can work as an enabler to make the economy more sustainable. At the same time data centres and electronics should become more energy efficient, he added.

The participants agreed that that this crisis truly represents an opportunity “to make structural changes” to achieve a more resilient economy, as Sipka summarised.

In some cases, it will be neither possible nor beneficial to retain some of the behavioural changes we made during the confinement. But in other cases it would be not only positive but also possible to keep some of the transformations.

Gageik said that the Commission scrapped the limit of the number of days you can work from home for this year. 

“I doubt we will just reintroduce the old limits for next year,” he commented.

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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