Drawing lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, to cope with future challenges for people and for the EU
ESU Video Conference
On 19 January 2021, the European Seniors’ Union (ESU) organized its first video conference of the new year. It was an honor that President Emeritus of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, first full-time president of the EU Council (2009-2014), was willing to participate as our keynote speaker concerning: ‘Drawing lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, to cope with future challenges for people, for the EU’. As the German temporary Presidency of the EU just came to an end, two speakers complemented Mr. Van Rompuy’s speech: Dr. Hardy Ostry, director of the Europe office of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) in Brussels and Mr. Rolf Berend, former Member of the European Parliament (1990-2009), President of the Senioren-Union of the CDU in Thüringen and member of the Executive Committee of the ESU.
2021: A year of recovery and hope
ESU-president An Hermans introduced the theme, looking ahead to 2021 as ‘a year of recovery and hope’. She was referring to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said in her last New Year’s address to the nation as German Chancellor that 2020 was “by far the most difficult year of her 15-year leadership”. The COVID-19 pandemic caused in 2020 a health crisis, followed by an economic and social crisis and a cascade of challenges, affecting all areas of society, everything and everyone. President Hermans reminded that throughout the whole pandemic period -starting in March since the WHO declared that we were facing a global health crisis- the seniors’ associations in the ESU-network kept in touch through many ways: the Newsletter, Facebook, videoconferences… “The year 2020 turned out completely unexpectedly for our societies, for governments, for the EU. When Ursula von der Leyen, as the new President of the European Commission, presented at the end of 2019 the strategic priorities for 2019-2024, no one could have foreseen that the EU and the Member States would face a pandemic that would affect all the set priorities. In the near future, however, the EU will have to face these ‘headline ambitions’ again:
- A European Green Deal;
- An economy that works for people;
- A Europe fit for the digital age;
- Protecting our European way of life;
- A stronger Europe in the world;
- A new push for European democracy.
And we, European citizens, expect the EU and Member States’ governments to realize these ambitions, but first of all we have to cope with COVID-19, becoming ‘the challenge of the century’, demanding a common multi-sector recovery program from the EU and all Member States.” An Hermans said.
What does all this mean for the future of the EU?
How will the corona pandemic overshadow that future?
What lessons should be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and the results of the policies developed to deal with the pandemic?
Answers to these and more questions would follow in the video meeting.
Drawing lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, to cope with future challenges for people, for the EU
Herman Van Rompuy gave an analysis of the current problem areas ahead of us: clear, concrete and based on factual data, in line with his years of experience as an economist and politician and his firm belief in the necessity of European integration. He formulated answers and perspectives on the following questions:
- What can we learn from the COVID-19 crisis? A return to ‘normal’ or to a ‘new normal’?
- How has the EU reacted to the crisis? How can the EU and Member States improve their policies to fight more effectively together for citizens’ health?
- What can be done to recalibrate the EU’s role in a changing geopolitical world in order to strengthen its capacity to act in line with its interests and values?
You can find Herman Van Rompuy’s lecture here.
Gemeinsam, Europa wieder stark machen
Since Germany had the presidency of the EU Council from July to December 2020 and given the changes in the CDU party in Germany, after Angela Merkel’s leadership for 15 years, the ESU also invited Mr. Hardy Ostry and Mr. Rolf Berend. Furthermore political developments in the CDU could have consequences not only in Germany but also at European level. During the first-ever splendid digital ‘Election-Congress-event ’ on 14-15 January, Armin Laschet -currently the prime minister of Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia region- was chosen to be the new CDU-chairman. These were all reasons to look back and evaluate the German Presidency of the Council, and in the meantime to look forward and explore new perspectives that are important for the future of Europe, including Germany’s role in the future.
“Most important is the togetherness of the 26 Member States. The governments stood in front of very difficult decisions. But… they did it, together. The recovery will be a joint European process.” Mr. Ostry stated.
For more information on the German Presidency please check their website, for more information on KAS, click here.
The EU in search of ‘strategic autonomy’ to respond to new challenges…
During the past decade, Europe has faced many challenges: the global financial and economic crisis, the migration crisis, Brexit, the need to act decisively on climate change, new rules to create a more safer ‘digital space’… and most recently, a pandemic that brought us in an unprecedented global health crisis. More than ever in a globalized world we experience interdependence, but instead of uniting around common solutions, great powers, and often even EU Member States, compete with each other.
But, in recent times, we also learnt, and we knew it already for a long time: ‘in Europe we can only recover together; in Europe we need to act together’. This is a very important idea for the future. Herman Van Rompuy highlighted: “For the EU, one should not underestimate the trend of European sovereignty or ‘strategic autonomy’, a concept mentioned in the European Council conclusions of December 2020. We have to become less dependent on other countries or other geopolitical actors. The word ‘strategic autonomy’ applies to all domains. It’s about much more than defence. It relates to the digital, our strategic sectors, the international role of the euro, the City of London, energy, irregular migration, food, pharmaceuticals etc. In our European language we like to talk about ‘a common destiny’. But if the EU is so dependent on others in so many domains it has no longer its ‘destiny’ in its own hands…(…) Brexit or not, the European caravan is moving on, as I have tried to show you. It is not just about survival but about deepening that unique project of cooperation. By the way, in today’s world with the interdependence in terms of trade, migration, health, climate and security, cooperation is inevitable. In our view, the Union is indispensable for its 450 million citizens, for defending and promoting our interests and our values, indispensable also for world stability and progress.”
The ESU is created to stimulate and promote active senior citizenship. This first videoconference of 2021 brought a lot of up to date information, for which we thank our expert speakers, Herman Van Rompuy, Hardy Ostry and Rolf Berend, and the interpreters, simultaneously transmitting the speeches in German, English or Spanish. Moreover the conference also created a basic attitude of trust and confidence and the firm conviction that it is worth to stand for Europe, in the future, as we did in previous decades. It is a starting point for further meetings and activities in the coming months.