Written by Etienne Bassot,
The coronavirus pandemic that hit the world from January 2020 onwards, with Europe at its epicentre for some weeks in the spring, has led to a major, multi-dimensional global crisis. Pressure on national health services, a major economic down-turn and new sources of tension on the world stage are just some of the most obvious negative consequences that spring to mind.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, analysts have produced an abundance of new forecasts, with many earlier ones made redundant by the new situation. The focus has mainly been on negative consequences and risks. As important as this approach is to underpin strategic planning and enable policy-makers to prepare for the worst, no analysis of a post-coronavirus world would be complete without a look at the other side of the coin − the opportunities that it may offer too.
Where there is crisis, there is also opportunity
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, in medical Latin, the word crisis refers to ‘the turning point in a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery, or death’. The root of the word is, however, the Ancient Greek verb κρίνειν − to decide −and a crisis can be defined as ‘a time, when a difficult or important decision must be made’. Like every other crisis, the coronavirus crisis is a crossroads at which important decisions have to be made, bringing both the necessity and the opportunity for change.
Taking the best from the crisis
The opportunities arising from a crisis are not immediately obvious and sometimes obscured by difficulties. The pandemic and the resulting confinement have had some immediate positive consequences − such as reduced CO2 emissions and the boost to e-commerce. Other potentially positive consequences are avenues to explore − such as bringing the Member States closer together on health or rejuvenating European industry.
Turning the immediate positive effects into lasting change and seizing the less obvious opportunities requires both reflection and action. Europe’s capacity to nurture the catalytic, but sometimes disruptive, positive effects of the crisis will be the measure of its resilience: the resilience of its liberal political systems, its economy, and its people − individually and as a society.
A critical moment for Europe
In the public discourse, the search for a ‘new normal’ is omnipresent. The Union will not re-create itself. Major shifts can, however, be triggered by particular opportunities, such as the debate on the future financing of the Union and the recovery plan, and the Conference on the Future of Europe. The European Parliament has made – in its resolution on the conclusions of the extraordinary European Council meeting, adopted on 23 July 2020 – a strong case for health, research, digital transformation and innovation. The Conference on the Future of Europe offers a valuable opportunity to engage in a more structured public debate, taking into account the challenges and opportunities brought by the pandemic. The debate should be aimed principally at improving the way the EU works, in terms not only of institutional dynamics, but also of policy design, in order to offer citizens a positive and constructive perspective.
Snapshot of ten opportunities
This paper replicates the formula of the ‘Ten issues to watch’ series produced by EPRS at the beginning of every year. Some of the opportunities described in the following chapters are very specific; others are more about the big picture. The aim is not to cover all possible issues but to highlight a few. The paper can be read in conjunction with a broader body of work, analysis and research being undertaken by EPRS on the longer-term implications of the coronavirus crisis, such as Towards a more resilient Europe post-coronavirus: An initial mapping of structural risks facing the EU, and a set of 20 ‘Ideas Papers’ on EU policy and resilience as the Union emerges from the crisis.
Read the complete ‘in-depth analysis’ on ‘Ten opportunities for Europe post-coronavirus: Exploring potential for progress in EU policy-making‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.