The European Single Market with its four freedoms (goods, people, workers and capital) is, probably, the greatest achievement of the European Union. As the virus COVID-19 spreads throughout our continent, the EU response needs to be one based on its founding principles of solidarity, openness, free trade and dialogue.
Since the start of the crisis, we have experienced an exceptional fast change to our daily life with travel restrictions and curfews throughout Europe. This has had (and will have) a tremendous impact in our societies and economy. However, we must look ahead and find solutions to the current pandemic as well as to the economic crisis that will follow – and these solutions can be found in the EU Single Market.
The questions and the solutions were discussed by Kerstin Jorna, Director-General of Directorate-General Internal Market (European Commission), Eva Maydell, Member of the European Parliament, Ivonne Bollow, Global Director Corporate Public Policy METRO AG and Luca Visentini ETUC’s General-Secretary.
Closing borders is not helpful as the Single Market is not part of the problem
With this thesis as a background, the discussion started with Kerstin Jorna, Director General at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for the Internal Market. Ms Jorna stated that this situation is unprecedented. Consequently, the Commission as well as national governments needed to invent new strategies in a very short time to mitigate the first effects of the pandemic in Europe, also at economic level. The first big challenge was the reintroduction of borders within the Single Market by 15 EU Member States. This unprecedented situation created chaos and confusion as trucks loaded (in some cases loaded with fresh food) had to wait up to 20 hours at border crossing points. However, the reaction was also quick and by now, at least all goods, especially medical equipment and fresh products can circulate again without problems.
The main problem for international companies at the moment is, that some Member States are introducing “different measures without much coordination”, which creates a “volatile environment and much uncertainty”. This could be even more problematic in the exit stage. Despite the decision of how and when to lift restrictions depends on Member States, some sort of coordinated by the Commission would be needed. The roadmap presented by President von der Leyen offers guidance, but it is crucial that the Commission needs to stay strong and defend the Single Market.
Ms Bollow also mentioned the difficult situation that METRO’s customers in the gastronomic sector are currently facing. With restaurants, bars and all cultural offers closed this is a serious threat for our European culture and way of live. The crisis is putting already many small and family businesses at risk, without a clear perspective when they will be able to reopen again. Therefore, it is crucial that Member States and the EU institutions consider their particularly needs, when it comes to liquidity and economic support measures. The closure of restaurants, bars and all cultural offers is a serious threat for our European culture and way of live.
The protection of the economy and jobs was the main ask of Luca Visentini, General-Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). It is crucial to protect all front-line-workers including nurses, truck drivers and cashiers in supermarkets. In many countries the health sector is poorly financed after years of austerity measures.
The second group of people that need support right now are employees that have been suspended and are in danger to lose their jobs. All over Europe 40 million jobs are already in danger. Therefore, it is crucial to think big about recovery and agree upon an ambitious plan with investments, while protecting workers’ rights and the social dialogue. “The EU will break apart, if we do not implement effective measures”, said Mr Visentini.
Eva Maydell, Member of the European Parliament and President of the European Movement International, pointed out that COVID-19 is the biggest crisis that the younger generation has encountered so far. According to Ms Maydell, the crisis does also offer the opportunity to improve our digital infrastructure and to prepare better for the challenges of the 21st century. The EU has the opportunity now to show, we are tackling the problems on the ground with a focus on future topics such as sustainability, digitalization, border security and health care.
This first online Wednesday Social finished on a positive note, when the moderator Joe Lynam asked Kerstin Jorna whether the Single Market will exist in its current form in 5 years’ time: “It will be much better in 5 years’ time”, she said.