The last few weeks have turned our world upside down. It seems like a lifetime ago that we were going about our everyday business. But by now, some of you reading will have had symptoms, many of you will know someone who is sick and every single one of us are worried about our loved ones.
But what is unique about the situation we are in is that all of us are part of the solution: all of us as citizens, but also companies, cities, regions, nations and the whole world over. Yes, it is true: Europe was initially partly blindsided by an unknown enemy and a crisis of unprecedented scale and speed. This false start is still hurting us today.
But Europe is now standing tall together. And that is being driven by a surge of compassion across our Union. In the last weeks, we have seen retired doctors and nurses answer the call of duty and millions more volunteer to do anything they can to help. We have seen restaurants deliver food to exhausted medical staff, designer labels make hospital gowns and car makers turn into ventilator producers.
That solidarity is infectious – and it is at the heart of our Union. Thanks to that impulse the real Europe is back. The one that works together to do what none of us could do alone. The EU is now delivering and is working flat out every day to save every life we can, to protect livelihoods and kickstart our economies.
In the last weeks, we have taken measures which would have been unthinkable only recently. We have made our state aid rules more flexible than ever before so that businesses big and small can get the support they need. We have relaxed our budgetary rules more than ever before to allow national and EU spending to go quickly to those that need it. This has helped EU institutions and Member States put up €2.8 trillion to fight the crisis – the strongest response anywhere in the world.
And this week the European Union went one step further. We have proposed a new scheme called SURE to make sure that people can keep their jobs and their incomes, as well as ensure that businesses can stay afloat while we hibernate. The scheme will provide €100 billion to help governments make up the difference if your company has had to reduce your hours – and it can support the self-employed too. This will help those in need to pay their rent, bills or food and keep other businesses alive in the process.
And to step up the fight to save lives, we have also decided to put every cent of the remaining money in this year’s budget into an emergency instrument to help secure vital medical equipment and scale up testing.
This reflects the fact that in this crisis there can be no half-measures. And that will be the case for years to come as we seek to lift our economy out of the crisis valley. To do this, we will need massive investment in the form of a Marshall Plan for Europe. And at the heart of it should lie a powerful new EU budget. The advantages of this are obvious: the EU budget is a proven instrument of solidarity and modernisation. And with its seven-year term, it creates certainty for investors and reliability for all parties involved.
But just as the world looks very different from the way it did just a few weeks ago – so must our budget. It must be there for the time when economies weakened by the current crisis will need to spark their engines and get our unique internal market going again.
The billions and trillions being spent today to avert a greater disaster are an investment in our future protection and they will bind generations. This is why the money in our next budget must be invested in a smart and sustainable manner. It must help preserve what is dear to us and renew the sense of belonging amongst Europe’s nations.
And crucially we need to invest strategically in our future, for example for innovative research, for digital infrastructure, for clean energy, for a smart circular economy, for transport systems of the future. A Marshall Plan of this nature will help build a more modern, sustainable and resilient Europe. This is the Union that I believe can emerge from this – just as it did after we every crisis in our history.
And this enormous effort, this new Europe, will need one thing more than any else: The people of Europe must want a common future where we stand up for each other.
What I see around Europe today shows the way and it fills me with pride. The future of Europe is the Polish doctors going to Italy. It is Czechs sending 10,000 masks to Spain and elsewhere. It is the airplanes that fly sick people from northern Italy to eastern Germany or the trains that bring people across borders to be treated in free intensive care beds. It is the Bulgarians who send protective equipment to Austrians, and Austrians who send masks to Italy. It is the first common European stock of medical equipment, or the respirators and test kits purchased together by almost every country, from Romania to Portugal, to be sent to Spain, Italy and elsewhere. The power and solidarity of this Union was also felt by thousands of Europeans who were stranded in Vietnam, South Africa or Argentina and were flown back home on a European ticket.
With each one of these acts of solidarity, Europe rises back up that little bit more. And I am in no doubt that before long Europe will be back up on its feet. Together.
This article was also published in several European media.