“Protect, prepare and transform Europe”: the EU Commission report

In May 2020 the European Commission released the report “Protect, prepare and transform Europe”, in which is expressed the need of building a sustainable Europe

Maria Duarte, Adina Radu, Alessia Salzano, Faye Sheela Sirohi Maria Duarte, Adina Radu, Alessia Salzano, Faye Sheela Sirohi

European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides speaks during a plenary session on EU global strategy on COVID-19 vaccinations at the EU parliament in Brussels, Belgium January 19, 2021. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS

In the report “Protect, prepare and transform Europe”, released by the European Commission’s Economic and Societal Impact of Research and Innovation (ESIR) in May 2020, it is argued that “the need to address humanity’s vulnerability to systemic risks [...] must drive a research and innovation framework founded on the fundamental principles of collaboration, solidarity and accelerated learning for the benefit of all European citizens, countries and generations”. In light of this statement, a closer look is taken into the potential deadlocks that the European Union is facing when it comes to creating not just a politically and economically, but also a socially sustainable Europe.

The European Commission has set out strategic ideas to create a Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) to help all EU economies bounce back. The RRF consists of an unprecedented €672.5 billion in loans and grants in frontloaded financial support for the crucial first years of the recovery. It is a lifeline at first glance, but it is up to the European Parliament and the Council to agree on the legislative proposal of the Commission. Even so, the RRF represents just a first step in redirecting the EU's finances towards solving the crisis. The Union will still need to have a more fundamental rethink of how its economy is constructed and how to avoid another economic crisis.

The EU4Health Programme

In response to Covid-19, the EU has released the "EU4Health" programme. With an investment of €9.4 billion, it aims to reinforce the degree of preparedness of the 27 Member States for the main cross-border health threats and ensures that national health systems have the capacity to cope with health crises and can respond to long-term challenges. The Union’s dependency on countries like China has proven to be a dangerous obstacle during the Covid-19 pandemic. In order to be able to withstand future health crises, the EU needs to build-up strategic reserves to deal with supply-chain dependencies.

Moreover, a growing concern of many EU citizens is the compatibility of technology with social and environmental sustainability. The introduction of the new 5G technology, led by the Chinese firm Huawei, poses as many challenges as it promises progress. The US-led rhetoric over bans on Huawei sparked fears over Chinese infringements on technological sovereignty and of corporate espionage. The Commission’s report of March 2019 recognised Huawei “as the standard-setter in 5G and the top 5G equipment vendor in the world”. At the same time, the EU framework for screening of foreign direct investment (FDI), which has become fully operational as of 11 October 2020, is still missing in 13 of the Member States.

The EU enlargement

Another point worth mentioning are discussions on EU enlargement. The Thessaloniki summit of June 2003 declared the Western Balkans as potential candidates. However, France gave green light for talks with Albania and North Macedonia only after the European Commission adopted a new methodology for accession on 5th February 2020. A 2019 survey conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) showed that among net contributors to the EU budget, such as Italy and Austria, there is a 40 percent rate of local government’s opposition to enlargement. Further deadlocks in negotiations must be avoided to prevent China and Russia from gaining influence in the Balkan area, thus threatening the stability of the whole continent and its capacity to act on a global scale in the post-Covid era.

In conclusion, the Covid crisis showed that the EU needs to be refunded on other bases, with a very clear perspective on the construction of a social EU. In order to emerge as a key actor in the multipolar system that a post-pandemic world projects - with geopolitical shifts framed in the US-China trade war and a new White House administration - economic power will not be the only winning asset. It is therefore of paramount importance that the old continent continues to put dialogue and collaboration at the top of its agenda to prevent both internal and international political turmoil.

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