“This pandemic is showing us that we are indeed vulnerable. Maybe for too long we thought ourselves to be invincible, that the future would take us faster, farther and higher. That was a delusion. But that’s not the only thing this crisis is revealing. It is also showing us how strong we are - and what we can build on! … No, this pandemic is not a war. It does not pit nations against nations, or soldiers against soldiers. Rather, it is a test of our humanity. It brings out the worst and the best in people. Let us show each other our best side!”
from President Steinmeier's 2020 Easter Speech
Coronavirus is not only an unprecedented global public health crisis, it is also a threat to social cohesion and economic stability.
We are in the midst of an acute virus pandemic, which will definitively change our societies, our politics, our economics, as well as our personal and collective lives.
We were kept almost totally unprepared and our reactions were generous but inadequate. There was, basically, a problem of level: impossible to fight a global scourge, which ignores borders, with national or local toolkits.
We need now, at least, a truly European response, which should be equally motivated by human solidarity and enlightened self-interest.
We owe it to ourselves but also to the rest of the world. Europe, with only 5% of world’s population and 25% of world’s GDP, delivers 50% of world’s welfare and social security expenditure.
EU should use its global influence across diverse policy areas, from data privacy and consumer safety to environmental protection and competition rules, to contribute effectively to the enhancement of healthcare standards worldwide.
This could be achieved by working more strongly across Europe towards the WHO definition of health, which is “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” for all Europe’s citizens. We need to put such effort into a larger perspective, encompassing other global issues.
The pandemic has dramatically highlighted the fact that the worst affected areas were by and large the most industrialized and polluted ones.
We will have to redouble efforts to ensure synergies among public health, economic recovery, environmental protection and climate change mitigation. We need the voice of people to be heard loud and clear, especially on fundamental issues.
The crisis is showing us the importance of people: citizens who were active helping people in danger while their Governments were blind and distracted.
The crisis is showing us how self-defeating could be to underestimate the support of refugees and migrants who are willing and able to help, once they are welcomed in Europe.
We have also learned that border restrictions do not entail major health gain, while on the contrary they rather slow the free movement of the relief support needed in an emergency.
Solidarity is really the basis of European citizenship and one of the bedrock of the European idea. We need to impress on decision makers at all levels to listen more to understand the real concerns of ordinary citizens.
When we talk about European citizenship, we are not just referring to free movement and the right to vote and stand in local elections, important as these are.
The identification is not with a set of institutions but with a set of values – the values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
No regrets, therefore, in saying “goodbye” – if necessary - to those who may have now second thoughts on these indispensable values. Europe is, and should remain, an “open society”, not a “EuroFortress”.
We are launching a campaign for a Europe-wide grass root reflection on “The European Union after Coronavirus, Lessons Learned”. We propose to structure it on six themes:
Medical experts knew that we were at risk of a virus pandemic similar to the one we are actually experiencing, rang the alarm bell many times, requested Governments all over the world to update the global influenza pandemic preparedness plan WHO had drafted in 2010 and updated subsequently and urged them to draft and update their own plans and to make simulation exercises well ahead of time.
Unfortunately, our rulers did not want to make such efforts and sustain the costs of keeping adequate stocks of critical devices, drugs, PPE in order to have them ready at hand when needed.
Now the price is much higher but the level of social consensus on new investments in public health is proportionally even higher.
Especially now that we can make great “leapfrogging”, thanks to best practices and frequent mistakes experienced in the crisis.
A consultation of the best minds of the health sector is needed to distil the lessons learned and translate them into wide-ranging programs.
The leading principle should be to acknowledge that no answer to a health crisis can be really effective unless it is based on sound scientific grounds, comprehensive, preventive and multi-sectorial, clearly framed and communicated to the citizens in order to gain their full commitment and participation.
Many ideas can be put on the table.
But it is important to avoid that such large reflection is prematurely compressed simply into the traditional “a priori” legal discussion on whether this new impetus can be achieved within the scope of Articles 168 and 222 - and/or through new reinforced cooperation procedures - or if some specific Treaty changes will be needed.
This is a global shock that needs extraordinary measures. The fight against Coronavirus is not another World War but the consequences could be equivalent.
The younger generations have been the most resilient to the pandemic but will be those who will suffer longer in the aftermath. We will have thus to rediscover the glorious experiences of the post-WWII reconstruction period and adapt them to today's needs, namely a Europe being at the same time healthy, fair, non- discriminatory, green and digital.
With the package adopted by the European Council on 23 April, we have now an adequate framework to react to the economic and social crisis and, at the same time, to give additional substance to “an ever closer Union”.
Many proposals are already circulating. In precarious situations, it is more prudent to take some risks rather than stiffen in the "status quo". We cannot afford any further impasse.
The full involvement of the “third sector”, as well as public-private partnerships, could open new avenues for “circular economy” programs. We should always seek “win-win” scenarios and avoid “zero sum games”.
We know that, on health matters, the European Union has only a supporting role.
There was no mention in the Rome Treaty. Afterwards, in parallel with the progress in the social dimension of the Union, clauses were introduced into the new Treaties to allow the European bodies, when required, to provide their contributions, inspired by the overarching principle of subsidiarity.
We believe that, on health matters, this principle must also apply above the EU and below the Member States.
Problems need to be addressed at the right level. We need to rely on an "institutional architecture" (who is doing what) that is both clear (to gain credibility and consensus) and flexible (to adapt quickly to changing circumstances).
Uniform procedures are not necessary but homogeneous objectives and compatible tools are required.
Delivery of health services can remain largely decentralized but a wider coordination is needed at European level.
The Coronavirus pandemic is teaching us that no effective response can be organized unless it is based on the understanding and awareness of citizens.
This has to be nurtured along the twofold sides of civic education ("we are the first responsible for the public good") and education in science and technology (not only digital literacy but also respect for complexity and verification of sources).
We know now how important is to take knowledge-based decisions, to keep adequate discipline and to avoid to spread unverified information.
Resilience should become a common feature in our day to day life. Innovation will definitively determine our ability to build our future on a more solid basis. This can be achieved only through cooperation and trust.
The pandemic has been a collective drama, dotted with family and individual tragedies. In particular, even the right to life of elderly and disabled people has been questioned in some extreme cases.
This is utterly unacceptable. The vulnerable and more fragile groups, including childhood, should be at the center of our concerns.
We must rebuild our social fabric from the bottom and put people, with their profiles and rights, at the center of new projects.
One of the few positive aspects of the crisis is the digital empowerment of active citizens in several fields (smart working; crowdfunding; social media debates etc).
It is vital that we engage citizens in conversations about issues that matter to them - locally, nationally and internationally.
And we need to impress on decision makers at all levels to listen more to understand the real concerns of ordinary citizens.
Thus, it will be important to start from a reinforced notion of "European citizenship", of which the "right to health" should constitute one of the most qualifying features.
We want Europe to remain an inspiring and balancing actor on the global scene.
We want Europe to speak on behalf of citizens and communities in a world scene, which would otherwise be squeezed only between big government and multinational business’ interests.
When other world powers are undermining the principles of multilateralism, a renewed commitment to lead in sustainable development, social welfare and human security matters is a responsibility and an opportunity for Europe, including in the various UN/COP26/G7/G20 frameworks.
The EU, being the largest and more farsighted donor on the international scene, should uphold its reputation in development cooperation, notwithstanding its gloomy moment.
Furthermore, being the principle of universal healthcare coverage an indispensable element of the modern European identity, beyond the borders of the EU, every post-coronavirus initiative should be discussed also with partners like the EEA countries, as well as Switzerland, UK and EU Candidate States.
To react to huge shocks, one need to think big and take advantage of the lessons learned in the past. While we are still fighting Covid19, we are inspired by two historical precedents, when new bold and far sighted political initiatives were prepared already during war time:
* in 1941, the Ventotene Manifesto, by Altiero Spinelli, Ernesto Rossi and Eugenio Colorni, which contributed to set in motion larger efforts to shape post-war Europe;
* in 1942, the Beveridge Report, which laid down the foundations of a modern welfare system not only for UK but also for the rest of Europe.
Both documents turned the pain of the ongoing tragedies into visionary innovations for the future. On the same vein, the Schuman Declaration in 1950 made coal and steel no more the vital ingredients of European warfighting but instead the icons of a new model of pooled sovereignty.
To galvanize again the European “demos”, which seems at the moment largely “sick and tired” of the “status quo”, we need – while are still confronted with unprecedented levels of restrictions in our normal lives - to identify another equally powerful driver, which may extract the good from the worst. We want to explore whether, through the mainstreaming into current European affairs of healthcare and civil protection matters, we can shape a new XXI century phase of the European integration process.
We hope that this grassroots consultation process, which may lead to a Final High Level Event, could help the preparation of the Conference on the Future of Europe, in the expectation that our initiative may significantly contribute to ensure that citizen and civil society participation is at the heart of all new initiatives for the relaunching of the European dream.
9 May 2020, 70th Anniversary of the Schuman Declaration
Povl Christian Henningsen
Maria Laura Franciosi
A first, tentative list of proposals:
To bolster – within the framework of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) - a coordinated European science community and pharmaceutical industry approach to vaccines against Covid19 and similar health scourges, seeking whenever necessary European Investment Bank (EIB) loans for bio-tech companies;
To give full European coverage to the Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP/PT) initiative, on the understanding that contagion prevention mechanisms should not violate privacy rights;
To use the EU Green Deal to launch a Europe-wide WHO “One Health” program on food safety, control of zoonoses and fight against multidrug resistant micro-organisms, with the full involvement of European agencies like EMA (European Medicines Agency) and ECDC (European Center for Disease Prevention and Control);
To work for more comparable European health statistics, in order to expand common medical protocols and standard hospital procedures, while ensuring interoperability among different data banks systems;
To improve the present EU Civil Protection Mechanism, a coordination body which has clearly proved unable to cope with the magnitude of the crisis, and explore whether it may evolve into a sort of European Civil Protection Service, with its own resources and assets;
To reflect, in the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027, the new priority given to health by the expectations of the European citizens, including for instance on telemedicine and home health care;
In order to test the overall systemic coherence and grass-root awareness, to launch periodic “black swan” crisis management exercises, at European, national and local level, involving - as widely as possible - schools and universities, civil society organizations, research centers and think tanks, in order to increase civic preparedness and immunization from fake news’ syndrome;
To acknowledge that scientific education (STEM) cannot be confined only to schools and universities but has to be permanently updated, also through distant learning;.
To ensure that no “digital divide”, among and within countries and income levels, may jeopardize a “level playing field” in education and employment opportunities;
To support the new Unesco-led Global Education Coalition for Covid 19 Response, in the expectation that the European Union will be among the major contributors to this important campaign;
To ensure adequate bridging finance to WHO during the – hopefully temporary – suspension of US funds;
To implement the EU Green Card proposal, in order to ensure that the status of European citizens living outside their national borders is respected through simple but effective means.