‘Never waste a good crisis’
The current crisis poses various economic and societal challenges upon us, the real impact of which will be still revealed in the months to come. At the same time, any kind of crisis can be good. It wakes us up, makes us think, change and ultimately evolve. Each crisis implies opportunities. The key is to develop the vision to see them. To demonstrate the courage to act upon them. To keep the trust in the success of our common undertaking: stronger and better Europe, providing for growth, prosperity and solidarity.
In other words, as Churchill said: ‘Never waste a good crisis’. What should we not waste now? Clearly, the opportunity to act together. To make the green and digital transition happen at an accelerated pace. To deepen our single market. To advance the circular economy as well as more sustainable production and consumption. To make European industrial base more resilient and to strengthen European strategic autonomy. To make Europe a global leader in innovation and sustainable growth.
Is this our choice for Europe? If yes, let’s act now.
The highly needed and greatly awaited industrial recovery plan, if designed with strong ambition, could accelerate the transformation towards a greener, innovative, inclusive and sovereign Europe in an unprecedented manner and scale. It could enhance the economic and industrial resilience of Europe and give new impulse to the Single market.
What are the main premises?
Diversification of supply chains through ambitious and balanced free trade agenda, ensuring effective reciprocity for public procurement with third countries, adaptation of competition and state aids rules, strengthening the screening of foreign investments in strategic sectors and encouraging (re)location of investments in Europe. Supporting our industries, in particular SMEs and safeguarding the employment in Europe has to be done in a coherent way in order to preserve the integrity of the single market. Ensuring the swift return to a fully functioning internal market is a precondition for recovery that is clearly not enough. It is time to demonstrate our political will for choices on how to further deepen the single market to the benefits of businesses and citizens.
What type of internal market, investments and policies we should encourage?
All the recovery investments should follow the imperatives of the European Green Deal and the ‘do no harm’ principle. In other words, to be sustainable. To protect environment and biodiversity. To contribute to decarbonisation of industry. To advance sustainable mobility, deployment of green technologies, and renovation of buildings. Alongside the investments, further policy and regulatory measures may be needed. The introduction of border carbon adjustment mechanism and the revision of state aid rules to ensure more ambitious climate policy and to better address the carbon leakage should be given priority.
We need internal market that is sustainable. Internal market that advances circular economy and encourages sustainable production and consumption by reducing the environmental and resource footprint while providing incentives for innovation. The approach could be sector specific with the focus being placed on the sectors that use most resources and where the potential for circularity is high, such as electronics and ICT; batteries and vehicles; packaging; plastics; textiles; construction and buildings; food; water and nutrients.
How about sustainable production?
Sustainable products should become the norm in the EU. Therefore, we have to establish sustainability principles. We have to improve durability, reusability, upgradability and reparability of products placed on the European market and ensure that their ecological footprint is minimized. The mobilization of European funds for strategic investments (EFSI) and the Horizon Europe program are essential to finance research and development of innovative and sustainable products. Furthermore, we have to tackle (ban) premature obsolescence of products. The common charger for all consumer electronic devices should become reality. Setting minimum targets for the use of recycled or biological materials, for example in the construction sector, as well.
How about sustainable consumption?
Consumers need to have effective and easily enforceable remedies that take into account sustainability aspect and prioritise reuse and repair over discarding of products. The ‘Right to repair’ has to be embedded in the EU consumer and product policies. Consumers need to have more reliable information about products at the point of sale, including on their lifespan and other environmental performance. In order to reduce green washing, the environmental claims by companies should be substantiated by applying stricter methodologies and rules. Establishing an environmental performance index for products, taking into account their reparability, durability and recyclability, including the packaging could help in this respect. Notification platforms to consumers could be useful. The role and responsibility of online platforms in providing consumers with reliable information on sustainability of products is to be closely scrutinised.
How about sustainable public procurement?
The uptake of green public procurement has to be facilitated. Introducing mandatory green criteria to encourage governments to buy goods and services that have less impact on the environment, as well as mandatory reporting obligations for the Commission and the Member States with regard to sustainable public procurement could be the way forward. In order to tackle ‘greenwashing’, we could create an instrument for filtering “green” tenders in order so that to ensure the compatibility of large-scale infrastructure projects with our climate commitments. We should not shy away from ensuring reciprocity in public procurement with third countries and favouring European companies for tenders in strategic sectors, such as health, in order to strengthen European autonomy and sovereignty.
We have the vision. We have the opportunity and the will to choose. What we need is the political will to act. There are risks and costs associated to it, but they could be far less than the ones of uncomfortable inaction. Let’s act together now so that we do not end up missing 100 % of the shots we did not take. The stakes are high and our future matters.