Europe's Moment

EU leaders must grasp the nettle and deliver on citizens’ expectations by negotiating a strong budget, agreeing the Next Generation EU recovery plan and providing global leadership, argues European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission's President | Photo credit: European Commission Audiovisual

This is Europe’s moment. This first half of 2020 has been one of the toughest junctures in our common history. The people of Europe have endured the Coronavirus pandemic, confinement under lockdown, and sometimes, even the loss of loved ones.

The epicentre of the health crisis has now moved away from our continent, but its consequences will remain with us for months or even years. This is not just about the hardest-hit countries or sectors; we are all connected and we are all concerned.

Recovery needs Europe and our recovery needs both a strong EU budget and the Next Generation EU recovery plan, that Member State leaders will discuss later this month. When the virus first began to spread in Europe, and after some initial attempts by Member States to react independently of each other, our citizens’ eyes turned towards the European Union.

“The Next Generation EU recovery instrument will give us the means to support companies with liquidity problems and save jobs, while also investing in Europe’s green and digital transition and supporting futureoriented reforms”

First of all, they expected the EU to help medical staff get the equipment they needed - equipment that was initially so difficult to obtain. This is what we did: we brought Member States together to jointly procure medical equipment; we sent medical teams from across the continent to hospitals in Milan and Bergamo; we made medical imports cheaper by waiving customs duties; we helped scientists gather and share their data; and we gave additional resources to the most promising research projects. Saving lives was the first priority.

At the time, 500,000 Europeans were stranded abroad and were struggling to make it back to Europe. Thanks to our European Union Civil Protection Mechanism, and to an unprecedented effort, we managed to organise flights so that they could come back home.

After focussing primarily on saving lives, we needed to then look at how we could help save livelihoods. With COVID-19 turning from a health to an economic crisis of unprecedented magnitude, it was natural that our citizens expected the EU to support families and businesses. Our first response was to attempt to mitigate the impact of lockdown on both businesses and workers by setting up a European instrument to support short-time work schemes, that helped ensure companies didn’t have to lay off their employees and that workers would not lose their salaries.

When long queues of trucks started to form at border crossings inside Europe, we created special ‘Green Lanes’ to make sure that essential goods could be transported across borders speedily and that citizens could find them in their local shops.

We helped the agrifood sector, hit by the lack of a seasonal workforce, to harvest Europe’s fruit and vegetables. We allowed Member States to depart from normal fiscal rules and to move very swiftly to support their companies with state aid. And, as we enter the summer holiday season, we are supporting the tourism sector and helping Europeans plan their travel safely.

“In the two months since its launch on 4 May, our global pledging marathon has mobilised around €16bn to support this global collaboration and to help vulnerable countries strengthen their health systems and recover from the pandemic”

Today, the priority is to boost Europe’s recovery - a green, digital and resilient recovery. At the end of May, the European Commission presented Next Generation EU as an extraordinary and one-off recovery instrument that will sit on top of a revamped multi-annual budget. Together, this will bring the financial firepower of the EU budget to €1.85 trillion.

The Next Generation EU recovery instrument will give us the means to support companies with liquidity problems and save jobs, while also investing in Europe’s green and digital transition and supporting future-oriented reforms. We will channel these funds through the EU budget - our most tested, transparent and democratic tool. Next Generation EU will be on the table of the next European Council in mid-July.

We need an agreement soon, before the summer break, so that these investments can reach those who need it and the recovery can start without delay. Even though the pandemic has slowed down in Europe for now, we know that the Coronavirus crisis is only likely to be defeated when the world has a universally accessible and affordable vaccine.

“European citizens want our Union to face this pandemic with resolve, matching an unprecedented crisis with unprecedented measures. They have high expectations, and rightly so. This is the moment to meet their expectations”

Together with the World Health Organization and many other partners, we have set up a new collaborative framework, the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, to step up the development and deployment of vaccines, treatments and tests.

Meanwhile, in the two months since its launch on 4 May, our global pledging marathon has mobilised around €16bn to support this global collaboration and to help vulnerable countries strengthen their health systems and recover from the pandemic.

Our next challenge will be to set up an inclusive international COVID-19 vaccine buyers’ group. We would like to see high-income countries invest jointly in accelerating the development of safe and effective vaccines, and at the same time, make a future vaccine available to all who will need it - not just to those who can afford it. Europe has been leading the global response to the crisis, because we know that we will only be safe when the whole world is Coronavirus-free.

Early on in the crisis, the EU had to reinvent itself to some extent, and by doing so, has rediscovered its vocation. European citizens want our Union to face this pandemic with resolve, matching an unprecedented crisis with unprecedented measures. They have high expectations, and rightly so. This is the moment to meet their expectations - with a strong budget, with the Next Generation EU recovery instrument and with sustained leadership in the world. This is Europe’s moment.

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