State of Europe 2020: Daily diary — Day 1

Festival opening: A question of leadership, governance and trust

State of Europe 2020 kicked off with a debate focused on how COVID-19 is impacting political leadership, and trust between governments and citizens. Europe faces crucial decisions as it plans the post-pandemic recovery. “When we look back, this will be a decisive moment in Europe’s history,” said Paul Tang, Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Tax Matters. “It will be a breakthrough, or we get a backlash.” Among ideas to restore voters’ trust: ensure the EU’s €1.85 trillion budget plan is spent effectively with strong protection for the rule of law; make taxation fairer and more sustainable.

Highlights of the session included:

Friends of Europe new poll showing 44% think life will be worse without the EU; 21 % think they’ll be better off.

Etienne Davignon, President of Friends of Europe, Belgian Minister of State and former vice-president of the European Commission argued that “this state of confusion” makes it essential to have confidence in what needs to be done.

Ngaire Woods, Founding Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government and Professor of Global Economic Governance at the University of Oxford stated: ““COVID has exposed the price … of letting housing, incomes, health access become extraordinarily unequal in our societies”

Kris De Meyer, Research Fellow in Neuroscience at the Department of Neuroimaging, Kings College London discussed how silo-busting dialogue can counter societal fragmentation

High-level session: Stepping up government and corporate leadership: towards a new approach to growth

The good news on climate change and biodiversity is that awareness of the threats has never been greater. There’s growing consensus among governments, business and the public on what needs to be done. COVID-19 can be a catalyst to speed up the response. “The picture is bleak, but the opportunity for change is in our hands today,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Among tools for ensuring things progress faster: ‘putting a price on nature’ through taxes on companies that threaten biodiversity, incentives for good environmental practices.

Highlights of the session included:

Friends of Europe new poll revealing big differences in priorities among citizens in different EU member states.

Tim Brett, President, Western Europe at the Coca-Cola Company talked about how consumers want companies to be better for the environment and business is stepping up to the challenge.

Emma Navarro, Vice-President of the European Investment Bank stressed that the private sector is key to the green transition, and that it will have to make the bulk of the investments.

Marco Lambertini stated that putting a price on nature through taxes and incentives for companies is a “fundamental step”.

Debating Europe citizens’ panel: What will be the ‘new normal’ for European cities?

Two young local government leaders took questions on how COVID-19 is affecting city life and how the urban environment will be shaped in the future through factors such as distance working, pandemic fatigue, city greening and participatory democracy.

Jasna Gabric, Mayor of Trbovlje, Slovenia, and 2020 European Young Leader discussed how COVID-19 is spurring the growth of urban gardens.

Gábor Kerpel-Fronius, Deputy Mayor of Budapest responsible for Smart City initiatives and Participatory Democracy argued that participatory democracy at a local level through can be a counterbalance to the authoritarian tendencies of national governments.

Ideas sharing: What young European want the EU to do

Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies at Oxford University, historian, author and commentator presented an Oxford University survey on young people’s expectations from the EU. No surprise there, they want climate justice, social justice, and to some extent intergenerational justice.

High-level session: How do we pay social protection?

COVID-19 has exacerbated inequalities and exposed fragilities in social welfare systems. In the economic crisis sparked by the pandemic, innovative solutions must promote sustainable growth, job creation and social protection. “We have to invent the social welfare state for the new economy,” said Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, former Luxembourg minister for labour, employment, and the social and solidarity economy.

Highlights from the session:

Domna Michailidou, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of Greece and 2020 European Young Leader stressed: “For financing of the welfare system to be sustainable, I think, it needs to be understood as an investment rather than just spending … We can transform the notion, the very concept of welfare policy from a draining factor to actual investment in human capital”

Mary Robinson, Former President of the Republic of Ireland, chair of the Elders
and Adjunct Professor of Climate Justice underlined that COVID-19 has widened inequalities, impacting more on women, minorities, the poor.

Nicolas Schmit, closed by stating that the pandemic shows we need strong health and welfare systems; fairer taxation could help pay for them.


We released our 2020 #EuropeMatters Citizens’ Poll: More Europeans prioritise the environment than prioritise the COVID-19 economic recovery


  • 09.30 – 09.45: Idea sharing — The Bio Revolution
  • 09.45 – 11.00: High-level session — Reshaping the EU’s industrial strategy, from competition to trade policy
  • 14.00 – 15.00: High-level session — Beyond hard security: towards a broader concept of strategic autonomy
  • 17.30 -18.30: High-level session — Stepping up government and corporate leadership: towards a landmark deal for biodiversity

To our priviledged discussants, don’t forget to login to the dedicated website tomorrow morning to take your place in the discussions.

To those of you following the livestream of State of Europe from our website, please don’t hesitate to post your questions on Twitter using the #StateofEU hashtag, and we’ll get it into the discussion.

See you all tomorrow for day two of the festival of politics and ideas!

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