How can we ensure Europe recovers following the corona crisis? That is the big question.
We seem agreed some huge and exceptional initiatives are needed - maybe a new Marshall Plan, especially for the hardest hit states.
So what was the Marshall Plan?
In 1948, following World War II, the US initiated a huge assistance programme to help Europe get back on its feet. It ran over four years – from 1948-52.
More than 12 billion dollars was given to Europe, 129 billion dollars in today’s money (2020). Most of the assistance was in the form of grants, which did not have to be paid back. Altogether 16 European countries accepted the offer.
Some important conditions were attached - European countries were to abolish any trade barriers between them, to ensure trade would prosper, and they had to work closely together.
This was the start of the OEEC (Organisation for European Economic Cooperation). Years later the OEEC was replaced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
All this was the Marshall Plan – named after the then American foreign minister, George Marshall (1880-1959). A former American general and head of the US army during the whole of WWII, he had proposed the plan in 1947.
In 1953 George Marshall received the Nobel Peace Prize for the plan, officially called the European Recovery Program.
But why did the US give this huge support to Europe?
There are several reasons for this. The Americans wanted a strong Europe – politically and economically. They feared that a weak and unstable Europe would be an easy victim for Stalin’s aggressive expansionist plans.
This is relevant today, because in many ways we are in the same situation now - not in relation to the US, but internally in Europe.
We need to get our economy up to full speed again – to ensure the continuation of our welfare states and our European way of life.
We also must avoid economic chaos and instability, which easily brings political extremism mixed with populism and nationalism. Sadly, we have already seen enough of that.
This is why the European Commission – supported by most of the EU member states – has proposed a huge support programme called Recovery Programme for Europe. This would again be support with clear conditions - a mixture of grants and loans.
There is important learning in the Marshall Plan for us today. This is true in particular for the few countries which haven't developed enough of a sense of solidarity and political courage to know that such a huge programme will benefit EVERYONE in Europe.
Things take time. Mobilizing political courage takes time.
Personally, I am convinced it will all happen at the end 😊