The Covid-19 crisis, climate change and digitalisation: the challenges facing the EU are manifold, and cannot be overcome by any single Member State alone. Against this background, international experts participating in the international online conference “Making Europe fit for a post-Covid world” explored how improving structures at EU level and reprioritising EU spending can help to increase the value-added of EU policy action and thereby provide European public goods.

To this end, the conference focused on the pressing and timely issues of pandemic prevention, climate action and the digital transition in Europe. In the context of the Next Generation EU recovery instrument, a special focus was placed on how Member States’ recovery and resilience plans can help promote this European agenda.

The first session discussed ways to enhance the EU’s management of the current health crisis and the prevention of future pandemics. Topics in focus included the cooperation between Member States during the crisis and how the role of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control could be strengthened. Moreover, the session discussed the use of tools such as stress tests, the current state of vaccine development, standardisation of data on the pandemic situation across the EU and how economic tools could help to dynamically adapt public health capacities to crisis and non-crisis scenarios.

The second session on Europe’s role in climate action focused in particular on the issue of carbon pricing, at both the European and global level. The debate took into account the strong linkages between climate, innovation and industrial policy as well as the aspect of social balance. With a view to a possible European added value, it was emphasised that measures set out by EU Member States in the context of their recovery and resilience plans must be systematically linked to the pricing and regulatory environment of the EU. Furthermore, the discussion addressed economic and regulatory aspects of a potential carbon border adjustment mechanism.

Focussing on how to boost digital Europe, the third session concentrated on European approaches in the areas of data governance and cybersecurity. The discussion emphasised the need for the European Union to sketch out a clear vision on digital matters, both internally and vis-à-vis its international partners. This would also require Europe to establish clear-cut rules and standards. The session highlighted the need for increasing efforts to expand and improve digital infrastructure across the EU and to strengthen the digital skills of its citizens.

Public closing session: “Can the current crisis help to create a more sovereign and more effective European Union?”

In the closing session of the conference, State Secretary Jörg Kukies (German Federal Ministry of Finance) and Secretary of State João Nuno Mendes (Ministério das Finanças, Portugal) as well as renowned experts Harold James (Princeton University), Jana Puglierin (ECFR Berlin) and Yu Jie (Chatham House) discussed to what extent the Covid-19 crisis and the EU’s recovery efforts offer an opportunity for Europe to become stronger and more sovereign, and for its policy actions to be more effective. The session was moderated by Katharina Gnath (Bertelsmann Stiftung).

State Secretary Jörg Kukies presented key milestones of the German Council Presidency, which took place in the second half of 2020 amidst the coronavirus crisis. He highlighted the implementation of Next Generation EU and the recent agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework at the European Council on 10-11 December. In addition, he pointed to important progress on fundamental issues such as the Capital Markets Union and the Banking Union, the reform of the ESM, as well as important steps accomplished in digital policy and with regard to the EU’s own resources. Looking at essential tasks ahead, Kukies underlined the need for deepening the Economic and Monetary Union.

Secretary of State João Nuno Mendes presented the core topics of the Portuguese Council Presidency starting on 1 January 2021. These include the adoption and subsequent implementation of Member States’ recovery and resilience plans and the green and digital transitions. He stressed the importance of bridging different views among Member States and said that recent months had shown EU countries’ commitment to reaching consensus. Europe’s economic and social model plays a crucial role in coping with the repercussions of the crisis. Mendes urged that Europe should take a leading role in technology, especially in the context of the environmental transition, and that Member States’ plans need to go hand in hand with the European Green Deal.

Harold James emphasised that the current coronavirus crisis differs significantly from previous crises over the last decade – particularly because EU members have taken decisive common steps to resolve this crisis. James underlined the opportunities offered by the technological transformation to address longer-term structural problems across the EU.

Yu Jie examined to what extent the coronavirus crisis could present an opportunity for the European Union to advance its role in global governance in the area of global health, in particular within the scope of international vaccine alliances, with regard to digital technologies and as a standard-setter in international trade.

Jana Puglierin stressed the significance of the agreement on the European Recovery Fund, which underlined the resilience of the EU. She highlighted how Europe being strong internally represents a crucial precondition for Europe's external sovereignty. Referring to regional conflicts in the EU’s neighbourhood, she underlined the need to develop EU foreign policy further. She also pointed out that recent surveys showed people’s desire for a stronger European Union.

In the final discussion, Clemens Fuest (ifo Institute Munich) highlighted that Next Generation EU is a powerful sign of European solidarity. However, in view of Member States’ recovery and resilience plans, Fuest highlighted the shortage of genuine European, cross-border lighthouse projects. He subsequently presented a concrete proposal in the area of innovation and mobility focusing on autonomous driving. Wolfgang Merz from the EU’s Economic Policy Committee underlined that the coronavirus crisis has created the nucleus for a new form of European economic governance. The swift implementation of the Recovery and Resilience Facility should be a key priority, and EU Member States need to strike a sound balance between growth-enhancing reforms and investments. Within the scope of flagship initiatives, Europe should focus on future-oriented key issues in the areas of digitalisation, climate protection and research and innovation.

In his closing remarks, Daniel Gros (Board Member and Distinguished Fellow, CEPS) identified a broad agreement on the need for the EU to do more, to deepen European integration and to strive for social and economic cohesion. However, referring to specific proposals made in previous policy sessions, he underlined the need to translate such a vision into concrete political action.

Jakob von Weizsäcker (Chief Economist at the Federal Ministry of Finance) emphasised that the coronavirus crisis is currently taking centre stage of debates and that Europe is providing a strong response to this crisis. Simultaneously, he underlined the importance of adopting a forward-looking perspective to prepare Europe for future challenges. He stressed the importance of using the funds made available by Next Generation EU in a targeted manner, but also underscored the need for further institutional development at EU level. The Union, he urged, needs to address fundamental challenges in areas such as pandemic preparedness, climate change and digitalisation. Keeping in mind the complex nature of these fields as well as their cross-border and global dimensions, Europe needs to perform decisive work in order to deliver on those challenges.

In case you missed the closing session, you can watch it again here.