Hope – Editorial of the Secretary-General Klaus Heeger

“Overall, the European economy remains on a path of steady and moderate growth. Over the next two years, annual GDP growth in the euro area is expected to settle at 1.2%, the same as in 2019.”

European Economic Forecast, institutional Paper 121, February 2020.

“As countries implement necessary quarantines and social distancing practices to contain the pandemic, the world has been put in a Great Lockdown. The magnitude and speed of collapse in activity that has followed is unlike anything experienced in our lifetimes… This makes the Great Lockdown the worst recession since the Great Depression, and far worse than the Global Financial Crisis.”

Gita Gopinath, Director of the Research Department at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), 14th of April 2020.

Dear colleagues, members, partners and friends,

In Belgium, as in most European states, we are preparing ourselves to restart a ‘normal’ life as measures are gradually loosened after seven weeks of strict containment. And it is not only about social distancing and the respect of hygiene measures. It is also about facing our fears.

During the past months, keeping distance, wearing masks and everlasting frequent handwashing have been rammed down our throats as being key for survival. And while the ritual of body counting press conferences, has been dictating the rhythm of our daily lives, worries have been our most loyal companions.

Will I be hit? What about my family, my parents, wife, children and friends? What about my business, my job, my pension? What will be the overall impacts on our societies, on our wealth and safety? In addition to the countless deaths and human tragedies, what are the socio-economic impacts of the ‘Great Lockdown’, which, according to the IMF, “is the worst recession since the Great Depression, and far worse than the Global Financial Crisis”?

And what if it becomes even worse?

The moment we take comfort in decreasing death tolls, infection rates and hospital admissions, news of second Corona waves, tremendous economic impacts, climate change and disappearing species are standing ready (and re-emerge) to nip in the bud even the smallest glimmer of hope for a rosier future.

In other words: Be scared. And never stop to be. It might always get worse.

These are messages have been drummed into our minds in the past weeks, months and years. This is nothing unusual, one may say, but having to cope with the emergence of three existential threats – the Coronavirus itself, the socio-economic impact of the ’Great Lockdown’ and not least climate change- challenges our lives, our way of life, our natural and economic resources, and not least our mental state in an unprecedented way since WWII.

Maybe this is due to my old age, maybe also to a lack of foresight or simply to childish despite, but I refuse somewhat to submit myself to doomsayers’ apocalyptic prophecies. And I believe in our capacities to overcome crises.

“There are some hopeful signs that this health crisis will end. Countries are succeeding in containing the virus using social-distancing practices, testing, and contact tracing, at least for now, and treatments and vaccines may develop sooner than expected,” Gita Gopinath from the IMF also said.

And witnessing all the essential workers – those who fight at the front, who keep our public services and our societies going at this very crucial moment-, but also experiencing the tireless commitment of our CESI members to defend their affiliates who are exposed to immediate health risks or to the devastating socio-economic impacts of the ‘Great Lockdown’, is heart-warming and comforting. It shows we are willing to fight.

That is our hope.

Of course, as many virologists, epidemiologists and economists are saying these days: The only certainty is uncertainty. And uncertainty is difficult to bear; it paralyses and brings doubt and fear. But without uncertainty, there is no hope, and while hope paves the way for confidence, the latter allows the fullhearted tackling of the challenges.

Our Presidium has outlined the most immediate and urgent needs: Financial assistance for companies and businesses, the safeguard of employment decent income and working conditions, performing health services and strong public services for sustainable societies, more competence for the EU and solidarity among the Member States in cases of pandemics, a tribute to the heroes of our times and not least… solidarity!

The EU (in spite of severe initial difficulties) and its Member States have set up a multitude of monetary, financial, fiscal, and economic initiatives; mostly through loans admittedly, but their instruments, design and amounts were unimaginable two months ago. The instrument which, to a considerable extent, deliver proof of solidarity.

On Labour Day, as every year, we all assured each other of our full solidarity. But to fight the virus and the economic and social consequences of the ‘Great Lockdown’ will require more. It will require solidarity between those who have and those who don’t, between the strong and the vulnerable, between the old and the young, within societies and between nations.

And what we promised on Labour Day must be kept in the future. That is our commitment. That is our vocation.

That is our hope.

Take care of yourselves – and of each other.