By Carlos Martos
Brussels, Apr 18 (efe-epa).- European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen believes the “real Europe is standing up” to the coronavirus crisis now.
In an interview with Efe, the German leader of the European Union’s executive branch spoke on a broad spectrum of issues from the challenges facing the Eurogroup last week and the expectations ahead of the summit of European leaders next week.
QUESTION: Are you afraid of the rise in euroscepticism in countries like Spain, traditionally one of the most pro-European countries in the EU?
ANSWER: In a crisis like this, the truth matters more than ever. So we should be honest about the situation we are in. And the truth is that when confronted with an invisible, powerful virus which knows no borders, populism and nationalism provide no answers.
Truth also matters when it comes to the economic fallout the whole world is grappling with. Europe has done more in the first four weeks of the crisis than it did in the first four years of the last one. We have taken a series of unprecedented decisions, from State aid to the Stability and Growth Pact and much more besides. This has enabled a collective response worth more than 3 trillion euros – the most emphatic in the world.
This common effort is a huge protective shield that even the strongest country in the world could not put up alone. What makes me even more confident is that the real Europe is standing up now. The one that is there for each other when it is needed the most. We’ve seen ventilators from Germany and medical supplies from Lithuania help to save lives in Spain.
We have seen patients from Italy and France treated in hospitals in Luxembourg, Czechia and elsewhere. There are countless more examples which make Europe the epicentre of solidarity right now. This does not just happen by accident – it happens because we are part of the same Union and we are stronger together. That’s the truth and we must never be afraid to say it.
Q: The leaders have entrusted you and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, to develop a recovery plan after the pandemic. What main action lines should have that plan?
A: As you know, our full focus is on protecting lives and livelihoods. I welcome the Eurogroup’s endorsement of the Commission proposals, in particular the creation of SURE which will help keep people in jobs and ensure we can make the full and quick use of Cohesion Funds. This will make a big difference but we know that more will be needed. This is why the Eurogroup also concluded that the next EU Budget will play a central role in the economic recovery.
This is natural: it is an instrument that is trusted by all, already in place and can deliver quickly. It can help target investment to our common objectives and is a tool for cohesion, convergence and investment. We will also have to realise that business as usual is no more. We will need to “bounce forward” not “bounce back”. And we will need to build a resilient, green and digital Europe. At the heart of this will be our growth strategy, the European Green Deal, and the twin transition and opportunity of digitalisation and decarbonisation.
Q: Spain proposes a “Marshall Plan” to reconstruct Europe and you have said that the pillar of this plan should be the next European budget 2021-2027. Do you really think it will be possible to finance this plan?
A: It’s true, Europe needs a Marshall Plan for its recovery and it needs to be put in place as soon as possible. For all the reasons I just mentioned, the EU budget must be right at the heart of this. And because this crisis is different from any other, so must our next seven year budget be different from what we know. We will need frontload it so we can power investment in those crucial first years of recovery. We will need innovative solutions and bigger headroom to unlock that huge public and private investment needed to help Europe make that leap forward together.
Q: What volume should have the MFF (multiannual financial framework) to constitute an authentic recovery plan?
A: We will put forward our proposals for the MFF soon and we are not yet talking specific numbers. We will have an opportunity to discuss some key principles with Leaders at next week’s European Council. Speed will be of the essence.
Q: Do you think the pandemic will act as an incentive to make countries most unwilling to have a big budget ready to contribute further?
A: When you are in a Union together, a euro invested in one country is an investment for all. It is in the interest of all Member States to successfully jumpstart our economies after this crisis. We all know that it will require a huge amount of investment to rebuild the Single Market, on which we all draw prosperity and opportunity from. A strong Single Market depends on cohesion. You need both to ensure prosperity across the whole EU – from north to south, from east to west. And we need this now more than ever before. My feeling is that this is well understood by all countries.