A month ago, the coronavirus crisis radically changed our way of life. Confined to our homes due to the necessary measures taken to address the pandemic and overwhelmed by a human tragedy with nearly two and a half million people infected and more than 160,000 dead worldwide, we wondered when and how we could return to something like normality.
With a very different health origin than the 2008 crisis, the Covid-19 crisis can lead to an economic and social shock of similar proportions. This is why it is essential for us to focus on recovery, while we contain the disease. The type of society that will emerge will depend on the nature of the plans for recovery and reactivation of the economy. Among the lessons to be learned, we need better analyses of the risks and threats and for these to guide the political and budgetary priorities of both the public and private sector. With one objective: to build economies and societies more resilient to all kinds of future challenges.
From a European perspective, I believe that three areas can contribute to this greater resilience: the first is to strengthen multilateralism, which is key to dealing with a global problem such as Covid-19, and also European solidarity. Europe does not have competences in the field of health, but it must protect its citizens and show them that it is capable of rising to the challenge and responding to an unprecedented crisis such as this one, and this is not the time for every man for himself. The Union knows that its credibility is at stake, and that is why a first step has finally been taken: unlocking an emergency package of more than half a billion euros and agreeing a fund for economic recovery, the latter thanks to the push exerted by France and Spain.
A second recovery priority is European industrial policy. A month ago the Commission presented a new industrial strategy for a green, digital and competitive Europe which was welcomed by Spain and other member states, as we cannot be left behind in industry. Covid-19 has highlighted the essential role of many industries, as well as the energy supply, which continue to provide vital products for society at this time. And also the need to rethink the dependence of European supply chains on third parties, as sectors that have not been forced to stop by government order end up doing so because of lack of supply from their suppliers. A cross-border, holistic and cross-cutting strategy for relocating productive assets is needed.
A second axis for recovery is European industrial policy. A month ago the Commission presented a new industrial strategy for a green, digital and competitive Europe, which was welcomed by Spain and other members, because in industry we cannot lag behind.
Finally, a third priority is to continue to promote decarbonisation in a realistic manner, with clear priorities and without ever forgetting energy security, in which, as this crisis is making clear, natural gas continues to play a fundamental role. Turning our backs on the climate emergency is not an option in response to the coronavirus crisis. Quite the opposite – the correlation between air pollution and higher fatality rate of the virus, demonstrated in research by Harvard University, reminds us that the ecological transition is also a public health matter. EU climate leadership will be one of the bases for ensuring that we are more resilient and more sustainable when we exit this crisis.
I believe that these three priorities can contribute to “building back better” and allow us to emerge strengthened from this crisis, able to face the future with energy and, most importantly, without leaving anyone behind.
This article was originally published in ABC journal and other Vocento Group newspapers on April 18, 2020.