Even after the first week of continental lockdown and the close of the EU`s borders, many of the European political leaders are saying that life will be different after this epidemic. Struggles for social change have to find a compelling way to join forces in locked down Europe. Right now, before its too late.
COVID-19 hit Europe, and we quickly became the global epicenter of the pandemic. Many of us around the continent are experiencing the most severe restrictions in our lifetime, whilst the health crisis quickly unfolds into a complex political and economic crisis of the EU. Leaders of the EU and the members states appeal to many core values that united Europe was built on to make sure people stay at home and follow the rules. You have to show unity and solidarity, we can only fight this together. Some of them are also taking extraordinary measures in this spirit: Spain nationalized private healthcare in a quick move to be able to deal with the breakout. Wash your hands, stay at home and keep social distancing in order to save our healthcare system. And we do that. Our cities turned into ghost towns, our public spaces are empty. We are shit scared and ready to follow orders.
As the first signs of an economic meltdown surfaces, our leaders are quickly forgetting about these values and do not act according to them. Like in 2008, during the last economic crisis, they are making decisions to save the polluters and invest in change that will dismantle the last bits of a unified Europe, delay ambitious climate action, and jeopardize an open society where people are free and equal. They are once again ready to bail out corporations instead of the people. Hungarian PM Orban is about to close down Parliament and already mobilized the army to establish the first dictatorship inside the EU, while Merkel and the President of the Commission is busy with making sure that the single market is protected and destructive, polluting industries can be bailed out at any costs by member states. Czech president Babis is calling for a retreat from the Green Deal and the first ones that raised their hands for bailout were flight companies. Billions of euros are committed to mitigate the damage caused by the recession, but no talk and no action shows the intent to rewire European economy and society for a just and sustainable future or to speed up climate action and make our continent more resilient. Despite the fact that – unlike in 2008 – renewable energy technology is competitive and a green stimulus package is not a hippie fantasy but a smart investment.
So, the future of Europe is not set yet. Just a few months ago, millions of Europeans were on the street standing up for these values, and turned even Orbán into a Captain Planet. The new Commission President, a conservative politician made climate action the number one priority of the current Commission. Millions of euros were committed to just transition from fossil fuels and European countries agreed to turn the continent to net zero emissions by 2050. All of this is behind us, and with us, which was not there in 2008. All this public sentiment is still there, just currently locked down in private homes and in the bubbles of corporate controlled social media. As much as they would like to, the current crisis cannot wipe away people´s demand for a just and sustainable future. The changes that are about to come, and especially the political answers to the social and economic challenges must advance the overwhelming wish of Europeans to build a resilient and sustainable continent. The new Commission and the governments of member states have a unique opportunity to leapfrog into that future, invest in real change, without going through ideological debates. The European Green Deal – despite all its weaknesses – can be a good starting point for a green and just recovery. The continent is full of great and successful initiatives that result in resilient local economies and healthy communities. Local food production, cooperative based food distribution, decentralized cheap renewable energy, alternative economic models, free public transport, Degrowth and the social and ecological state. Policy proposals, as well as tried and tested models of sustainable alternatives are lined up, ready for scale up and investment to replace the growth centered, individualistic and monopolistic economic model that destroys humans and the planet. Despite the historic opportunity to bring climate action to the right level of ambition, early signs show, that decision makers will try to quickly forget their promises from 2019 and will put profit again over people. Struggles for social change like this timely campaign on Universal Basic Income have to find a compelling way to join forces in locked down Europe right now. Just like last spring around the EU elections, we can turn the tide and make system change for a just and sustainable future happen.