If Europe can come together to fight the Coronavirus pandemic, it can overcome all other challenges, argues Angelika Niebler.
Today, we face challenging times, with everyone everywhere being affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Since the outbreak, all our efforts have been focused on protecting the lives and health of our citizens and preventing the collapse of our health care systems.
Although Member States have been in the driver’s seat, there has also been coordination at EU level, such as ensuring the adequate supply of protective equipment and medicines across Europe.
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However, the Coronavirus pandemic not only calls for European cooperation in the health sector, it also calls for a strong European industrial policy, because the impact on our companies and enterprises has already been dramatic.
Businesses are in urgent need of fresh money to keep their employees and to prevent insolvency proceedings - the situation has become very serious.
“If we are united in solidarity to overcome this pandemic, then we can overcome all other challenges in the future together”
Europe’s tasks are threefold, the first of which is the mobilisation of EU funds. This can be done using the European budget and structural funds, including the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative of €37bn, and by guaranteeing €1bn to the European Investment Fund so that the European Investment Bank can provide liquidity to banks.
We can also help SMEs and small midcaps by extending the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund to public health crises.
Second, it is the EU’s role to arrange the necessary flexibility for Member States to introduce all measures and instruments needed to cope with the challenges caused by the Coronavirus outbreak.
This has been done by adjusting State aid rules, by applying the utmost flexibility of the European Fiscal Framework and by cutting red tape wherever feasible.
In the long run, we also may have to allow Member States to acquire holdings in enterprises, with fixed end dates and set exit strategies, to prevent the selling out of industries weakened by the crisis.
These extraordinary times may call for extraordinary measures to help European industry overcome these challenges.
Third, the functioning of our Internal Market is key, as is close cooperation in research and innovation.
“These extraordinary times may call for extraordinary measures to help European industry overcome the challenges caused by the Coronavirus pandemic”
I welcome the Commission’s new guidelines for border measures to protect health and keep goods and essential services available.
We need to ensure that the free flow of goods and the free movement of workers continues within the Internal Market too.
Arranging for collaborative research in Europe and providing adequate funding for R&D-projects is also of utmost importance, so we can speed up the development of a vaccine against COVID-19.
In 2019, the EU invested €50m into the German biotech company BioNTech; today, this company is one of the frontrunners searching for a vaccine against COVID-19.
It shows how investments into research and new technologies can pay off. Once we have emerged from this crisis, we must help companies increase their production.
Therefore, stimulating public demand may help, as would careful analysis of the lessons we learn from the crisis, such as refraining from further regulation.
After that, we should then concentrate on the objectives agreed upon before the crisis - taking leadership in decarbonisation and digitalisation.
With the Green Deal, we have set the ambitious goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. Therefore, our industrial strategy should stimulate the developments needed to turn these ambitious goals into economic success.
Only if we succeed in cutting our industry’s emissions, optimising CO2-storage and introducing new technologies can we hope to inspire others around the world to follow our approach.
We must reach the Green Deal’s objectives together with European industry, not against it. As for digitisation, Europe needs to become more independent, and digital sovereignty should be our objective.
Accelerating the roll-out of 5G could be a useful stimulus following the crisis. By setting up this infrastructure, we can build a basis for our economy to benefit from industrial data clouds and platforms.
Taking the lead in digitisation also means developing technologies like quantum computing and AI solutions in Europe, for which easy and speedy access to venture capital is required. Cutting red tape is a major issue for the EU’s industrial strategy.
While cutting red tape will be very useful in handling the crisis, it will be of even greater importance in the post-Coronavirus era.
We need to allow European companies to take the action they need to successfully compete on the global market.
As the cases of Thyssen-Krupp and Tata or Siemens and Alstom illustrate, Europe’s competitiveness would benefit from adjusting European competition law to a global perspective.
The Commission’s proposed industrial strategy introduces the idea of inclusive efforts to achieve its goals more efficiently. Identifying relevant industrial ecosystems, where joint efforts are needed, seems like a formula for success.
The example of a European Battery Alliance might soon be followed by effective cooperation in other sectors, such as hydrogen, quantum computing or AI.
If the Coronavirus crisis demonstrates how successful European cooperation can be, then we should build on this momentum and show that our future lies in a stronger Europe.
Now, more than ever, Europe must be united. If we are united in solidarity to overcome this pandemic, then we can overcome all other challenges in the future together.