The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest challenge to European societies since the Second World War. It has also become a defining moment for the European project. From the beginning of the crisis, it was clear that only with a common European response could we overcome, first the health emergency, and then its dramatic economic and social consequences.
The challenge was huge, but Europe lived up to the calls for action, starting with the health response.
Indeed, for the first time in the history of the European Union, we have witnessed close and informed coordination on health issues under the leadership of the European Commission, culminating in the joint procurement for the vaccines that will enable all European citizens to be immunised and Europe’s active participation in the international effort to guarantee access to the vaccine to the citizens of developing countries, in particular from Africa, through COVAXX.
But the European Union also lived up to expectations on the economic and social front with the European Central Bank, the European Commission, the Eurogroup and the European Investment Bank taking swift action to respond to the emergency.
Yet it was also clear from the outset that this was an unprecedented crisis, caused by a symmetrical external shock, and that it would therefore require an unprecedented response, which could not be limited to mobilising existing instruments. We needed to go farther, to jointly and robustly support the recovery of the economies of all Member States, otherwise the Single Market and the European project as a whole would collapse.
The European Commission put forward an ambitious package amounting to €1.8 trillion, divided between a 7-year Multiannual Financial Framework of €1.074 trillion and a €750 billion Recovery Fund, financed through a common debt issue guaranteed by the increase in the Own Resources overhead. This innovative proposal was approved in July during the first European Council of the German Presidency and, after intense negotiations with the European Parliament, it received final approval at the last European Council of this Presidency, on 10 December.
Never before has the European Union proved so necessary. Never before has it been so close to its citizens, responding to their greatest fears and legitimate expectations.
With the agreement reached by the German Presidency on the Multiannual Financial Framework and the Next Generation EU Programme, we now have the legal framework and the financial means for a joint robust European response that will enable all Member States to ensure the recovery of their economies. With the simultaneous start of vaccination in all Member States, we will gradually be able to get our lives back to normal.
Germany has thus brought its Presidency to a perfect end and hands over the baton to the Portuguese Presidency.
The next stage will not be less demanding. Now it is time to deliver, to put in place the new instruments created: a Europe-wide vaccination plan and the National Recovery and Resilience Plans.
The Portuguese Presidency will focus on three main priorities. The first one is the economic and social recovery, which will be led by the green and digital transitions, drivers for growth and more and better jobs. The second one is the development of the Social Pillar of the EU, creating a solid basis of confidence that these twin transitions will be an opportunity for all and that no one will be left behind. Thirdly, we must strengthen the strategic autonomy of a European Union open to the world.
Three milestones will give concrete expression to these priorities: the approval of the national recovery plans, together with the Climate Law and the Digital Services Package; the Social Summit, gathering social partners, civil society and institutions in a joint commitment around the Social Pillar; the EU-India Summit.
The German Presidency’s motto was “Together for Europe’s recovery”. The Portuguese Presidency’s motto signals the passage to the next stage, characterizing and materializing that recovery: “Time to deliver: a fair, green, digital recovery”.
It is by achieving results that we ensure citizens’ confidence in the European project, showing that only a dynamic internal market can strengthen our SMEs and create more and better jobs, guaranteeing, through a solid Social Pilar, that we invest in skills, innovation, social protection which enable us to lead the climate and digital transitions leaving no one behind; enhancing our strategic autonomy not fearing to open up to the world where we want to be global actors.
It is therefore time to deliver, together, as a community of values and shared prosperity.
This article was published by EurActiv