How do we make the EU fit for future?
In its proposed Recovery Fund, the European Commission uses allocation criteria mainly linked to infection rates and past economic performance. To foster an efficient economic rebound post COVID-19 crisis, we propose instead to allocate funds through a forward-looking approach based on specific industrial and economic structure of EU regions.
The two narratives briefly examined here cast light on different aspects of the EU in the times of Covid-19. Euroskeptic nationalists typically propagate claims of EU failure but have been rather subdued during the pandemic as mainstream governments have taken over their trademark policy of closing borders to foreigners. Nonetheless, the grip on power of several pro-EU mainstream leaders, including President Emmanuel Macron in France, Prime Minister Conte in Italy and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Spain, remains tenuous.
Poorer European Union countries and those hardest hit economically by the COVID-19 crisis could obtain up to 15% of their GNI in grants and guarantees from the EU’s proposed recovery instruments. Yet the proposal would represent a net benefit for all EU countries, even if there is only a small positive economic impact over the long-term. The proposed very long-maturity loans would lead to non-negligible benefits, exceeding 1% of GDP for some countries.
The European Parliament and the Council still have an opportunity to improve the Just Transition Fund by refocusing it on social support and basing fund allocations on more granular information that takes into account not only countries’ needs but also their green ambitions.
Because of hurdles in designing, approving and implementing European Union programmes, less than a quarter of the €438 billion in grants planned under the new EU recovery instruments is expected to be spent in the next two and a half years, when recovery needs will be greatest. Well-functioning financial markets can help bridge the gap between urgent spending needs and late-arriving EU disbursements, but more effort is needed to frontload EU payments.
Apart from decisive European Central Bank measures, the EU-wide response to the COVID crisis had been rather weak until the Commission put on the table a drastically new proposal: the creation of a new recovery facility, ‘Next Generation EU’, that would borrow money in the name of the EU to finance EU-wide expenditures. The changes to the proposed standard seven-year budget that primarily focuses on long-term structural issues are however generally small, and funding reductions are compensated by new funds from the recovery instrument, suggesting that an opportunity is missed to reform the EU budget.
Can we rescue the economy after COVID-19 and reach the environmental goals?
On 14 January 2020, the European Commission published its proposal for a Just Transition Mechanism, intended to provide support to territories facing serious socioeconomic challenges related to the transition towards climate neutrality. This report provides a comprehensive analysis of how the EU can best ensure a ‘just transition’ in all its territories and for all its citizens with the tools at its disposal. It provides an overview and a critical assessment of the Commission's proposal, and suggests possible amendments based on best practices from other just-transition initiatives.
Mapping out the post COVID-19 recovery.
European Union debt can provide comprehensive insurance against the COVID-19 pandemic and can enable a macroeconomic response, even though EU debt is a liability for taxpayers in EU countries and therefore indirectly for national budgets. To establish it, countries will need to give up control over some spending and some revenues. To be politically sustainable, that control should not be intergovernmental but be grounded in EU institutions. The EU Treaty offers some possibilities, but treaty change might ultimately be necessary. Democratic legitimacy is at the core of the debate.
The European Commission should not make the implementation of a carbon border adjustment mechanism into a must-have element of its climate policy. There is little in the way of strong empirical evidence that would justify a carbon-adjustment measure. Moreover, significant logistical, legal and political challenges will arise during the design. The EU should instead focus upon the implementation of measures to trigger the development of a competitive low-carbon industry in Europe.