The coronavirus crisis has exposed some critical divisions we are facing within the Union: blocs of “rigorous” countries (like the “Frugal Four”) have joined forces in order to express their scepticism about the viability of the European financing programmes to tackle the issue; national courts started to discuss the authority of the European institutions; many nationalist movements regained a certain prestige among member states.
In this context, the president of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen, delivered a speech yesterday at the European Parliament plenary about the European Recovery Package.
It is a speech that represents another piece of our modern history (just like Mario Draghi’s “whatever it takes”).
The president began by reminding the audience about the pillars on which the European Union lies, stating that crisis has put us in front of a 'binary choice': “We either all go it alone; leaving countries, regions and people behind, and accepting a Union of haves and have-nots, or we walk that road together”. For her, so for the European citizens she represents, the choice is simple: “I want us to take a new bold step together”.
This step is going to be made thanks to the proposal of a new recovery instrument called Next Generation EU. It will be worth 750 billion euros, the funds will be raised by borrowing money on the financial markets then distributed in grants (500 billion) and loans (250 billion). It will invest in:
common priorities (like digitalisation, climate neutrality and social resilience)
protecting the single market
helping to rebalance member states’ balance sheets
healthy companies that find themselves at risk because of the different availability of capitals among member states
key industries in order to strengthen the supply chain
In addition, it will increase Erasmus and youth employment support to make sure that nobody is left behind.
She continued: “This investment will be a new European common good. It will show the true and tangible value of being part of the Union. And it will be owned by us all.” A necessary clarification telling that this instrument has no relation with past debts of member states. For the next negotiations about the programme, this point will be subjected to compromises because, with high probability, the Frugal Four will oppose not only the way this money will be distributed (more than 65% of the firepower will be accorded by grants) but also how the funds will be raised.
Despite these aspects which need discussion, the president could still use the crisis as an opportunity to “lay a cornerstone of a Union which is climate neutral, digital and more resilient than ever before”.
As she reminded: “Seventy years ago, our founding fathers and mothers took the first courageous step to create a Union of peace and prosperity. Today is time to write our generation’s chapter to the story and take another courageous step towards a stronger Union”.
She is ready. What about us?
Cover image: European Commission