How the EU can emerge from coronavirus stronger – and greener

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Rotating wind turbines during the sunset on a field near Landau, Germany, 18 October 2018. [EPA-EFE/RONALD WITTEK]

When the EU re-emerges from this crisis, what will it look like? Will it be stronger and more adept at responding to future crises like climate change? Or will it be weaker, unable to address the concerns of Europeans and in danger of breaking apart? A lot depends on what happens this Wednesday, writes a group of authors from the Jacques Delors Institute.

Pascal Lamy, is president emeritus of the Jacques Delors Institute. Enrico Letta is president of the Jacques Delors Institute. Henrik Enderlein is the director of the Jacques Delors Center in Berlin. Sébastien Maillard is the director of the Jacques Delors Institute in Paris and Geneviève Pons is the director of Europe Jacques Delors in Brussels.

This Op-Ed is published exclusively on EURACTIV.com.

The coronavirus crisis is taking a terrible economic toll on the European Union. From what we can say at this stage, the EU’s economy looks poised to contract by 7-10%.

The key answer to how the EU will recover and what it will look like will come on Wednesday (27 May), when European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will unveil the EU recovery plan in Brussels.

While we know the plan will be linked to the EU’s 2021-2027 budget – known as the multiannual financial framework, or MFF – and give the bloc vast new borrowing capacity, crucial details remain unknown.

Recently, we’ve watched the EU struggle through its responses to the eurozone and refugee crises. Based on these experiences, and in close consultation with experts from Italy, Germany, France, Spain and elsewhere, we have identified five elements essential to the success of the EU’s recovery plan – and, ultimately, to the long-term viability of the European Union itself.

First: jobs. We know high unemployment will be left in the wake of the immediate public health crisis. Across the EU, the unemployment rate is expected to soar from 6.7% in 2019, to nearly 10% in 2020. EU member states like Italy and Spain will be hit the hardest, as well as Greece or Slovakia. The recovery plan announced this week must address this reality head-on.

Second: timing. Our economies need money now. Not next autumn, not next year. The economic crisis of 2008 has taught us that this time we cannot wait or waste time. The EU must quickly finance projects that will have a quick impact.

Third: future-orientation. As we alluded to in our just-released policy paper, simple doesn’t mean stupid. Having the EU underwrite projects of all sizes and of all complexities that rely on available technologies will reinvigorate Europe’s economy and get people back on the job now. It is important to spend money in a smart and future-oriented way. Examples of investments include ecological renovation of housing, better waste and water management, trans-European networks to permanently replace CO2-heavy transport, etc.

Fourth: sustainability. The recovery plan must prioritise transition to a greener and more digitised Europe. In other words, we must put von der Leyen’s European Green Deal at the heart of the recovery. Even during coronavirus crisis and amid broader energy market turmoil, business deals in the renewable energy sector have kept apace. Why? Because clean energy costs keep falling, and we know that once we’ve beaten the coronavirus crisis the climate crisis will remain. In a world that increasingly values low-carbon, innovative technologies and more digitised, resource-efficient business operations, focusing recovery funds on the clean economy will increase EU economic competitiveness for decades to come.

Fifth: visibility.  The money should go from Europe to the citizens. The recovery plan money should be flagged as EU money. This time we should avoid that local politicians pretend that they are the ones who helped citizens, entrepreneurs who risk closing, unemployed, and not Europe. The plan deserves a European name to it. This undubious visibility of European solidarity is of utmost political importance for the EU’s future.

The past few months have been difficult for all of us. Now, the European Commission has the daunting task of charting an economic path forward. The bold proposal by Germany and France last week provides for a good starting base.

We know the way won’t be easy, but if at this crucial early stage of the recovery the Commission follows these four guidelines, we know the EU will emerge stronger and better prepared for the future.

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