Editorial of the Secretary-General Klaus Heeger: Putting us to the test – Whatever it takes – For the better

Dear colleagues, members, partners and friends,

In a split of a second our lives changed; they toggled, from maximum speed, hasty travels and countless meetings, to frozen inertia, cold distance and silent incredulity.

In a split of a second, everything we knew, everything we were used to, everything which seemed normal, has become different. What has so far represented warmth and safety -human proximity and closeness- is now a source of danger.

Shaking hands, the millennium-old ritual of showing each other’s peaceful intention: a relic of the past. Social gatherings, ever since central for mankind’s survival and human evolution: a punishable act. The picture of a jogger being pursued by a policeman -for jogging!- speaks for itself.

And we accept it. We accept the strongest repressions of our civil liberties since the end of WWII. We accept being controlled and fined for sitting on a bench, for going for a walk, for being too close to someone else.

In just a few weeks…

Predictions of political analysts and sociologists “that this crisis will result in a growing tendency amongst our citizens to prefer effective authoritarianism above slow and ineffective democracy” indeed cast a shadow on the future of our freedoms.

But I still believe that we accept it for good reasons. For the reason that human lives, regardless of their age, count. For the reason that human lives must prevail over profit. For the reason that human lives are to be saved – (so far) at any costs.

Whatever it takes.

How far are we willing to go? How big are the collateral economic and social damages we are willing to bear? Our policy responses to Corona lead us straight to core ethical questions. And proposals for new approaches to confinement policies (which would target the risk groups, above all the elder population, not the entire society) reveal first societal cracks which may divide us.

Our societies are being put to the test.


So are our members and their affiliates, countless of them currently fighting at the frontline. And the weight mainly lies on the shoulders of the public sector, most visibly on public health care services.

But we notice how much more is essential: pharmacies, supermarkets, transport companies and courier services, cleaning companies… These are services almost unnoticed in normal times, yet indispensable for our societies to function; as many of us only realise now.

Confronted with ever-increasing death tolls, saving lives becomes a frenzy obsession. In a collective defiance, society braces itself against the virus.

Whatever it takes.


And the European Union is put to the test.

The image of an EU coming too late and doing too little – if not being cold-hearted in the face of unseen needs for help- will hardly be erased from too many memories, and has led to incommensurable damage.

“The European Union may have survived Brexit, the refugee crisis and the financial meltdown of 2008 — but don’t assume COVID-19 can’t destroy it”, an American scholar recently wrote in Politico.

Yet, despite the EU facing one of its most existential crisis, it might be more needed than ever.

The CESI Presidium established on March 26 that to fight pandemics “in the future, the allocation of competences, finances and capabilities will have to ensure more solidarity among the Member States and crisis management that do not stop at borders. A stronger role, more financial resources and enhanced capacities for the EU will be necessary” In other words, more competence for the EU is needed.

And the EU has to do whatever it takes to mitigate the tremendous economic impacts, not least because no national economy can shield itself on its own; even more so given that “the countries hit the worst by the pandemic — Italy, Spain and France — are the ones that have the least amount of fiscal breathing space”.

Fabian Zuleeg and Janis Emmanouilidis from the European Policy Centre wrote: “Decisive action from political leaders can still reduce the negative impact – but only if there is a coordinated and concerted response, encompassing countries across Europe. Fortunately, we have an instrument to deal with cross-border challenges – the European Union”. According to them, the EU will “potentially be even more important in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis” and “a coordinated and robust action plan based on effective interaction between economic, financial, monetary and fiscal policies … has the best chance of succeeding.”

It is, therefore, the EU which has to pool resources, which has, as some called it, to deploy a ‘battery of measures’, including “‘whatever it takes’ fiscal responses”. This would comprise Eurobonds (recently recoined Coronabonds) and send an important message both to citizens and the world: the EU is there to help. It guarantees unity, strength and stability.)

Whatever it takes.


It is our future which is put to the test.

A major German investor told me recently that compared to previous crises the difference of the COVID-19 crisis lies in the fact that each and everyone of us is deeply affected. And that we can assume that the world, our societies, the economy will be different; a divide between pre-Corona and post-Corona- maybe for worse, maybe for better.

I hope that our societies will have shielded as many as they could and that my 88 years old father will be as feisty as always. I hope that my children will not be faced with economic devastation, but that they will look into a bright future, where both wealth and freedoms are granted. And I hope I will then take my father and my children and travel to Italy or Spain – to places with great food and warm people, where life is exuberant and generous.

‘Never Waste a Good Crisis’ was the conclusion of the so-called 2009 Wolstenholme Report, calling on the British construction industry to use the ‘Great Recession’ as an ‘opportunity’ to change – for the better.

Mourning thousands of victims can hardly be called an ’opportunity’. It is a devastatingly painful lesson. But it marks an opportunity to rethink our lives, our societies and our work. It will impact on our future decisions on how to organise our health services, how to green our economies, how to improve coordination and solidarity in the (by then hopefully still existing) European Union, how to increase the respect and the tribute we must pay to public services and the general interest – for the better.

And not least how to further improve and adapt our work at CESI.

As I wrote to you two weeks ago: CESI is not only a confederation. We are designed to help. It is our raison d’être, and we can only hope that belonging to ‘our family’ may make the situation a little bit more bearable.

Take care of yourselves – and of each other.

Whatever it takes.