Come on Europe, we need you!


Picture of Etienne Davignon
Etienne Davignon

President of Friends of Europe, Belgian Minister of State and former European Commission Vice-President

In my long political career, I have witnessed my share of crises, from geopolitical ones such as the decolonisation of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, to socio-economic ones such as the decline of the steel, shipyard and textile industries. But what we are experiencing today is completely different.

This invisible enemy strikes indiscriminately at states and populations alike, and as such affects all aspects of life, from the personal to the professional.

While the immediate priority is obvious – protect yourself, protect others and care for the sick – tomorrow’s challenges will be enormous. We were not ready for this on a collective level, so reactions have so far been on a local one. Each state acted before coordination could be organised, and fear has settled everywhere.

Tackle the twin issues of remedying the consequences of stay-at-home measures and reviving the economy

As Jacques Delors so aptly put it, the poison of “every man for himself” is striking at the heart of the European Union. And yet, we have learned the hard lesson that exclusive reliance on others is a terrible mistake.

What can, and should, Europe do? As a start, continue what the European Central Bank and Investment Bank have already done economically and welcome the Commission’s decision to temporarily suspend budgetary constraints.

Second, tackle the twin issues of remedying the consequences of stay-at-home measures and reviving the economy.

Self-proclaimed frugal states must regain their sense of solidarity

To address the first, we will need to develop a European plan to ensure the survival of the aviation sector, which has been an engine of economic growth in recent years, as well as develop concrete measures to support SMEs.

On the second issue of reviving the economy, we need an emergency plan for the medical sector, accelerated investment in the ‘European Green Deal’ and increased research and development, particularly in the health sector.

For this, additional resources are needed.

Self-proclaimed frugal states must regain their sense of solidarity. We have seen in recent times some truly shameful behaviours on their part.

The survival of the Union is at stake and there is no Plan B

It will be important to find an agreement on the European budget that takes into account the aforementioned priorities. We’ll also need to create ‘corona-bonds’. This is not a question of pooling EU member state debts, but rather of pooling the investment needed to revive the economy. Any state opposing this move is betraying the basic values which are the very foundation of European integration.

If a vote is truly necessary among the member states, let’s get it done. We’ll then deal with the consequences for those who oppose it.

The time has passed for any usual pettiness. The present belongs to the real changemakers.

The survival of the Union is at stake and there is no Plan B. We rely on each other. Who can deny this and still look at themselves in the mirror?

The moment of truth has come. “It is not too late, but it is time,” as P-H Spaak put it so well in the aftermath of the Second World War, as Europe was re-emerging from its ashes.


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