“Yes, we can. So yes, we will.” | Editorial of the Secretary-General Klaus Heeger

Dear colleagues, members, partners and friends,

The proposed EU response to Corona marks a major moment in EU history. Of course, nothing is carved in stone yet, but to see how much things have evolved in the past few weeks can be called historic.

First, on May 18th, Merkel and Macron surged ahead with a 500 billion proposal, already considered as opening an impressive new chapter of the EU, and then, just nine days later, the serve of the EU Commission.

We have welcomed these new approaches as visionary, innovative and far-sighted,  as strong and determined signals of solidarity – between those who have and those who do not, between the strong and the vulnerable.

Because to allow the EU (via the European Commission) to take loans (backed by joint guarantees of the Member States) by emitting own (EU) state bonds, to pass them on mostly as grants (not loans!) to the Member States, and to pay these loans back via new own resources would be a first in EU history.

Accordingly, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it “Europe´s moment” and European Parliament President David-Maria Sassoli “Europe´s D-Day “. It is indeed a strong, very strong message – both from the European institutions and most Member States. (And let´s face it: probably largely due to a shift of mind and dogma in Germany.)

Remarkable is also that the Commission proposes to embed the new recovery instrument ‘Next Generation EU’ in a revamped long-term EU budget (Multiannual Financial Framework). This would give the EU and its institutions a major say and influence on the way grants and loans are distributed – in order to give recovery “a shape”, to quote Marta Pilati from the European Policy Centre.

Major sums could underpin policies of green, digital and socially fair transitions, they could be tied to the respect of the rule of law, and soft law instrument like the European Semester could be given unprecedented significance.

As the Commission writes in its adapted work programme: “The need to accelerate the twin green and digital transitions, to build a fairer Europe with an economy that works for people, to strengthen our Single Market and strategic autonomy, to rally round our values, to nurture our democracy and to take our full global responsibilities as a geopolitical actor are ever more acute. This will drive Europe’s recovery and build a more resilient, sustainable and fair Europe.”

Now comes the moment of negotiation, and the battles will probably be fought about the ratio between grants and loans and the conditions attached to them. While it is for example difficult to imagine how agreement on the “rule of law” conditionality would be acceptable for Hungary and Poland (decisions on the MFF and the recovery instrument require unanimity!), the mere size of the recovery instrument and its channelling through EU programmes would provide additional bargaining powers to those insisting on rule of law criteria, a green transition or socially fairer policies. Added to that, long-lasting debates and controversies over conditionalities require time; yet time is crucial for the recovery, as money is needed now.

The next weeks will be decisive in paving the way for both the recovery and the direction we may give to it. For us, trade unions, saving jobs, incomes and decent work will be the main priority. Not yielding on these principles and fiercely defending the interests of our members is not only our duty – it can be considered as an essential service. But we have also to make sure that recovery measures are designed in a way that our societies indeed become more “resilient, sustainable and fair”. And this will require continuous strong social investments as well as considerable spending for public services – being aware that in the aftermath of the economic recession, calls for austerity measures will become virulent.

Admittedly, choices will not always be easy. As discussed recently in our new [email protected] platform, deciding which sacrifices can be expected from us and our members will lead us to answer core ethical questions –  for instance when assessing whether the public sector and its workforce should “deliver their part” by accepting cuts or giving up statuses and privileges.

However, the signs of the past weeks, both in terms of the health impact of the virus and the displayed readiness for more solidarity in the EU justify confidence. Because, as often, it is not only about infection and death rates, fiscal stimulus or recovery packages. It is also about our state of mind.

“Altogether, a real vision for the EU is presented, embedded in solidarity”, I concluded my statement on May 28. And it was already in late April when the German Health Minister Jens Spahn wisely and humbly foresaw that “we will probably have to forgive each other a lot in a few months”.

Yes, in times of crisis we need solidarity and a vision for the future. And while solidarity also requires forgiving, a vision creates a state of mind that tells us: Yes, we can. So yes, we will.

Take care of yourselves – and of each other.