José Manuel Fernandes
Maria do Céu Quintas
Lessons from Covid-19
José Manuel Fernandes
Portuguese MEP, professor and politician
Covid-19 originated in China and soon spread across the planet. The pandemic is clear proof that today there are no borders and we are all connected. It shows, on a global scale, weaknesses in health systems and the need for cooperation in scientific research. On the other hand, it speeds up digital transition by imposing new experiences: a lot of work can be done from home without loss of productivity and most meetings can be held by videoconference. At the same time, it derides populists and nationalists. And it shows that Europe must be self-sufficient in the production of medicines, health materials and equipment.
The pandemic has sent out shockwaves, with devastating economic and social consequences. None of the EU Member States was to blame. European solidarity must therefore take the form of risk sharing, such as loans with common guarantees. Fortunately, after initial hesitation, this is the path that is being taken.
The European Parliament and the Commission have been proactive and innovative in proposals where solidarity is the blueprint. The Council (Member States) has been slow and short-sighted, revealing national selfishness.
But there are lessons to be learned. In Europe, it is time to strengthen sovereignty in matters such as scientific research, health and civil protection. The recovery should not only restore but also restructure an economy based on the Green Deal, the Digital Agenda and social rights. Investment in these areas must be matched by the EU’s own revenues. The principle is simple: anyone who does not pay should pay. As such, it is only right that major digital companies – such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, which benefit enormously from the single market – should be taxed. In addition to this, if we tax products entering the EU from countries that do not have the same environmental rules, we get revenue and favour fair competition that benefits our companies. The fight against fraud, tax evasion and avoidance is another battle we must not lose.
In Portugal, our excellent health professionals have truly availed themselves. The support from the EU budget, the flexibility of European funds, the possibility of moving towards state aid and the suspension of the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact have helped to alleviate the enormous economic and social impact. In grants alone, our country will receive 48.5 billion Euros in the 2021/2027 period. We must use these resources well. We must not fail.