Time for governments to listen to their European citizens

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

European Parliament's plenary session - a debate with the Prime Minister of Slovakia on the Future of Europe. [European Parliament]

Amid the range of appeals and open letters on the policy-changes need to combat the coronavirus, one constant is that all are demanding an effective common EU response to the pandemic, writes Roberto Castaldi.

Professor Roberto Castaldi is the research director of the International Centre for European and global governance. This letter was also signed by Alberto Alemanno, Jacques Bourgeois, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Paola Concia, Pompeo Della Posta, Alexandra Geese, Costanza Hermanin, and Mario Telo

In the last month, many Appeals and Open letters from academics, intellectuals, economists, civil society, economic actors have been launched all over Europe.

We are among the promoters of some of them, which were signed by tens of thousands of European citizens and personalities from culture (Habermas, Saviano, etc.), civil society (Guerot, Klossa, etc.) and politics (Prodi, Zapatero, Fischer, Letta, Lamy, Schwan etc.) from all member states, in an impressive and spontaneous bottom-up mobilization. The debate on the future of Europe is taking place every day on the media and social media across Europe.

The similarities of the requests, which are clearly widely shared by European citizens, are striking. All demand a timely and effective common EU response to the pandemic to ensure the recovery.

The pandemic has rapidly changed our daily lives for the worse. The response will also change our daily lives, but hopefully for the better.

This means exploiting all existing instruments, but also strengthening the EU competences and powers, significantly increasing the EU budget – financed by own resources based on an autonomous fiscal capacity – and issuing common EU debt, all managed by the Commission responsible in front of the Parliament and the Council (deciding by qualified majority!), with the full awareness that the recovery plan and the Green Deal shall become a single endeavour to ensure a sustainable recovery.

It may turn out that in the emergency such measures may only be made by an intergovernmental agreement. But the start of a Convention to draft a new Constitutional Pact ensuring adequate democratic accountability and legitimacy should be also decided to reassure European citizens.

National governments must listen to their European citizens. We ask the European Council, the Commission and the Parliament to include these proposals in the decisions now being negotiated.

It is time for European unity and solidarity, not national divisions and short-sightedness. The Commission and the European Central Bank’s timely proposals and actions show the way.

Also, the proposals by the Eurogroup are a step forward in the right directions. But they arrived after slow and tiring negotiations, and on many issues, an agreement has not been reached. Essentially, no decision has been taken so far by the European Council.

European citizens are realizing that only supranational institutions provide a European perspective and defend their common interests and values. And that the apparently national answers actually rest on the ECB safety net: only an EU-wide action can be effective.

All existing instruments shall be exploited to cope with the pandemic, and new unprecedented tools are indispensable too.

No taboos can be accepted on both aspects. It is not reasonable to plan a Conference on the future of Europe to consult citizens in a top-down manner, but ignore their autonomous, spontaneous widespread requests during a crisis which is developing a deep and shared sense of European citizenship.

Europeans now expect timely decisions and actions, not discussions, to ensure the future of Europe and its citizens.

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