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The COVID-19 Crisis Must be A New Schuman Impulse

Seventy years after the Schuman Declaration, and 75 years after the Second World War drew to its close, Europe is grappling with another epochal challenge.

The initially chaotic and fragmented responses to the Covid-19 crisis are deeply regrettable — but also a reminder that a European Union is a necessity.

An impending catastrophe eventually pushed European countries to share hospital beds, set up joint procurement of medical equipment, and to send doctors to the worst hit parts of the continent.

Were the lessons of disunity learned? It’s still too soon to tell — and that is reason enough for deep concern.

Even as countries begin lifting lockdowns and reopening their economies, we are turning inwards yet again. Parallel discussions are taking place across the continent on how to bolster business and save jobs.

That is forgetting a lesson we learned painfully only a few weeks back: in a globalised world, a patchwork of local band aids will not provide a long term solution. We need to heed the lessons of the pandemic to build a strong, fair and resilient European economy, capable of protecting Europeans from the disastrous social consequences of future pandemics while keeping the EU’s strategic sovereignty shielded from geopolitical shifts.

In 1950, the continent was still in the grips of the aftershocks of one the darkest periods in human history. And what was true then is still very valid today: a well functioning single market and an efficient European Union are preconditions to a successful and lasting recovery.

We can draw on the spirit of the Schuman declaration and take small, concrete steps towards the larger political and economic goal. In other words, the EU needs action to support, coordinate and maximise the efficiency of recovery measures across Member States. To achieve this, Res Publica Europa pleads for the exclusion of Member States’ financial contributions to the EU budget from the calculation of national debts and deficits. In other words, national financial contributions to the Union would be exempted from the Stability and Growth Pact rules.

This would very concretely highlight that every Euro invested in the European integration will pay off for European citizens, politically but also economically, as a tangible step towards affirming Europe’s resilience and strategic autonomy. Rethinking contributions to the EU budget as an investment in the future will allow the EU to move past the endless net contributors vs. beneficiaries divide - and their corresponding rebates - and allow all to shape the recovery based on their respective abilities.

In a time when policy makers are scrambling for ways of financing the post-pandemic recovery, this simple measure, fully implementable under the current EU Treaties and Eurostat rules, would free up around 150 billion euros every year – or one trillion euros over a 7 year period – to kickstart hard hit economies across the continent. Faced with the likely ballooning of national debts in the Union, the EU should rise to the occasion and hand a lifeline to citizens, countries and businesses.

The magnitude of the budgetary effort required to finance a European recovery as well as the digital and green transitions do not allow for any mistake when it comes to the commitment of Europe to a socially-fair and sustainable green future. Trillions of euros of public money required to rebuild our economy can only be spent once. We cannot fail our children again by making the wrong choices today and by shifting a new debt burden on their shoulders. Instead, Europe should give itself the right tools to deliver for its citizens.

We need strong political leadership to engage with Europeans, stimulate debates about what the EU is about and bring political vision beyond the day-to-day concerns. It is high time to move beyond national interest and move towards a more inclusive and human-centric society that remains based on values and trust.

Nevertheless, as best exemplified by Robert Schuman, when confronted with a once in a lifetime crisis, we need to take immediate, pragmatic steps to get back on our feet. Beyond the very strong symbol it would send, exempting Member State contributions to the EU budget from the calculation of National debts and deficits is such a step. Preserving the Union that has created prosperity and peace on this continent for the last seven decades is both European solidarity and the utilitarian protection of our collective enlightened self-interest.

In the end, we need to rediscover about solidarity what lovers have long known: there is no such thing as love, there’s only proof of love. Europe is our common collective good. Our collective Res Publica. We should defend and protect this precious good so that it can protect us in return.

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