On 1 June 2021 from 15.00 to 17.30, the FMA organised the public roundtable discussion ‘Together for the Future of Europe’ about the “EU Post-Covid recovery based on Cohesion principles and values”. This roundtable discussion has been opened by President Hans-Gert Pöttering and moderated by the journalist Brian Maguire who summarised this event.
All Ships Rising – Europe’s Post-COVID Economic Potential
Europe’s cohesion post-COVID was the focus of this month’s European Parliament Former Members’ Association ‘Public Roundtable – Together for the Future of Europe’. With green and digital recovery dynamics driving Europe’s future economy, speakers were asked to consider how cohesion principles and values were can influence the post-COVID recovery; the answer was not simply ‘build back better’, but ‘be like bamboo’ – spring forward.
Hans-Gert Pöttering, President of the EP Former Members’ Association, spoke about Europe’s resilience, our capacity to exceed expectations when facing a defining challenge. He expressed concern that the European Union is being battered by disinformation and stalked by populists exploiting inequality. However, Pöttering emphasized the Europe’s extensive cohesion funds provided the structure and arsenal to take on populists, by improving the lives of all Europeans.
Cohesion, he explained, is not about getting all Member States to exactly the same level and standards, but about ensuring all regions are able to rise and develop effectively, maximizing their unique characteristics and ambitions.
Pöttering spoke about how the Conference on the Future of Europe is about promoting a plural debate, in particular, reaching out to young people. “We have responsibility as former Members to make a contribution to the debate,” he said. Adding, “We need to raise a constructive debate on fundamental issues for the future development and welfare of the European Union. We need to build a free and informed consensus about the issues taken at a European level.”
The first panel discussion, on an “Uneven European Economic Recovery?” heard from keynote speaker, Mikel Landa-baso, Director of Growth and Innovation at the Joint Research Center of the European Commission. Landa-baso highlighted the different types of inequality across Europe, including age and gender. Innovation, said Landa-baso, was the key to Europe’s recovery; it is the fundamental system of development which engages all stakeholders – public and private – in pursuit of new products and services which not only benefit citizens within Europe, but innovation also seeds Europe’s global competitiveness.
Konrad Niklewicz, a Visiting Fellow at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, explained the critical role of larger cities; their capacity to be engines of change, early adopters, and hubs of innovation, finance, cultural and economic exchange. The role of 5G deployment in smart infrastructure was discussed as an example of how large cities are capable of rapid 5G uptake which will increase road safety, health services, and innovation.
Saïd El Khadraoui, Former MEP and Special adviser to the Foundation of European Progressive Studies on the European Green Deal, encouraged the audience to see the Green Deal as a touchstone for reshaping our society, not only stimulating carbon reduction, but creating new jobs and services. Inequality could be tackled through leveraging cohesion funds and principles, ensuring a much more inclusive European society, and sense of enduring commonality.
Professor George Papaconstantinou, Chair at the EUI School of Transnational Governance and Director of the School’s executive education programme and Professor of International Political Economy, addressed how the EU should align spending to its political priorities and common goals while preserving cohesion value.
Papaconstantinou, a former Finance Minister for Greece, discussed the rebalancing of public debt post-COVID. He said he is a ‘tech-optimist’ and believes the digital agenda will create more jobs than are lost. He emphasized that so long as Europe is seen to be advancing with a credible economic strategy, there is no need to be overly concerned about currently high levels of public debt.
The Green and Digital strategy, he said, is sufficiently well-resourced, ambitious and focused – it will therefore retain market confidence. This he observed, is a platform for ensuring cohesion – so long as the tide is rising for everyone, and all ships are rising, Europe can avoid stormy economic seas.
Hans-Gert Pöttering remarked that we all need to be architects of this European project. He added that the Conference on the Future of Europe is an instrument to improve the Treaty of Lisbon, and as far as the health union is concerned, for example, there is great opportunity. However, in his concluding remarks, Pöttering said that in all Europe sets out to accomplish, it must do so in the context of a competitive, social market economy – “we need this balance for the future…” and “We must never forget, we are a Union of values, and interests must always follow the values.”