JOSEP ANTONI DURAN I LLEIDA 08/05/2020
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, at a recent press conference (STEPHANIE LECOCQ / EFE)
In memory of the Schuman statement, tomorrow we are celebrating Europe Day, in the midst of a debate on the need for a Marshall Plan to deal with the economic and social impact of the pandemic. The American plan of 1948 was intended to reconstruct what the Great War had destroyed. Now, in 2020, it’s about rebuilding what coronavirus is destroying across the European Union. Unfortunately, then and now, the loss of human life will be irreparable. In the 1950s, money had to be injected to remake infrastructure and re-create a new, more modern European industry. Now, the aftermath of the pandemic demands inoculate liquidity to productive sectors that for weeks have been paralyzed and reorient public spending in a triple direction: health, science and education.
Where are the differences in the European discussion on a reconstruction plan? These appear when we are to determine how much money needs to be insuflate to our economies, who should pay for it, and how it should be financed. In 1948, it was the Americans who paid. By 2020, no one disputes that money for Europeans should come out of the Europeans themselves. Discussion occurs around which procedure is used and what instruments are applied. This is not the time to bring about maximalist battles and it is the time to formulate real and viable proposals for the common denominator of EU members, so it seems advisable to put away the idea of pooling debt. There will be no Eurobonds – at least for now – and if there was no intention to create them before Tuesday, after the german Constitutional Court’s ruling, let alone.
Coronavirus will correct the culture of excess, which in Spain we have practiced a lot
In the absence of Eurobonds, or if you prefer coronabons, which instrument can respond to the necessary implementation of a new Marshall Plan? Will the Spanish proposal to create a €1.5 billion fund succeed? At the out of date, the need to overcome the obstacle of Eurobonds and to seek other mechanisms seems agreed; after all, that’s how the EU has been built. But will an increase in the EU budget be used? Will the European Commission be indebted to a bond issuance to finance programmes that states will have to co-finance in part? Will loans be used or will they be transfers? Or will we have to keep thinking that we will always have the ECB, knowing that it cannot solve everything, let alone after of the alluded sentence of the german Constitutional? In the answer to these questions, there are two confronted visions: the one maintained by the countries of the north and the one that the countries of the south hold.
What reasons should inspire the countries of the north to accept a European reconstruction fund that does not lead to a brutal and dramatic increase in the debt of the southern countries? Solidarity and fraternity between neighbors? It is right to demand solidarity, but knowing that it is in two directions. But it is not solidarity that should guide Germany, the Netherlands, Austria… Nor was it the only reason that led Truman’s United States to implement its Marshall plan. In the 1950s, Americans had political and economic interests. They needed Europe to place a commitment to trade, economic, political and military multilaterality. And, likewise, they needed a Europe free from communism.
In the 21st century, northern Europeans also have this dual interest. If the United States was concerned about the penetration of communism in a war-torn Europe, the democrats of the northern EU should be concerned about the spread of populism and anti-Europeanism. These could find for many years their best breeding ground in the austerity-inequality binomial that would generate high public debt. And economic interest also have, of course they do! And more with the storms created by the winds of trade wars. Or do they want to energize the internal market (to which they do not always contribute, either with “paradisiacal taxation” or with “disguised protectionism”).
Angela Merkel recalled these days that “the commitment to a united Europe was a German state reason.” Well, it is this endeavor that we need to be imposed. Nothing to object to solidarity, but the higher reason must be politics. My friend Enrico Letta wrote these days with success about the concept “we all depend on everyone”. The north, the south and the south, the north. And I add: knowing that the South must also assume its responsibilities. Coronavirus will correct the culture of excess, which in Spain we have practiced by far. I do not mean social spending, as more will have to be invested; but to spend less on other concepts and spend it better. It may, for example, be positive to have more high speed trains kilometres than France and Germany combined, but we would do much better if we had more and better health and science than both of them.