Europe’s bishops have weighed in on the EU coronavirus recovery plan, praising the package as a sign of solidarity and a collaborative initiative that pushes countries beyond their own interests in order to provide relief to all member-states.
Speaking of the EU COVID-19 recovery plan, Bishop Antoine Hérouard, auxiliary bishop of Lille and president of the Social Affairs Commission of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), said in an April 13 statement that “against particular interests, we are called to live solidarity in the European Union and fully include people in precarious situations or isolation.”
This is especially true for those affected by the COVID-19 crisis, he said, asking the EU, its member states, all economic actors, and multinationals companies, “some of which have benefited from the crisis,” to participate “in a fair way to the recovery effort to increase ‘mutual trust’ in our economy.”
“At the same time, caring for our neighbors should go in hand in hand with caring for our common home, as one human family living on the same planet,” he said.
Last year EU leaders drafted a coronavirus recovery package and approved the European budget for the next seven years, agreeing on a €750 billion ($897 billion) plan called “Next Generation EU” to help the EU tackle the COVID crisis, and on a €1100 billion long-term EU budget for 2021-2027.
The bulk of the recovery package is dedicated to the €672.5 billion ($804 billion) Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) plan to support the EU’s economy, and an additional €312.5 billion in grants and €360 billion in loans.
One major caveat of the RFF is that in order for EU member-states access the money, they must draft national plans allocating at least 37 percent of funds to the transition to a greener economy, and at least 20 percent to efforts to digitize their economies.
Each country is required to spend the money on public investments and internal reforms aimed at strengthening their economies. All 27 national plans for EU members must be submitted by the April 30 if they are to claim disbursements from the general fund.
In an April 13 statement, COMECE bishops said they welcomed the recovery package, which was approved earlier this year and is the largest package ever financed through the EU budget, as “a new sign of solidarity in the European Union, much needed to help the people most impacted by the crisis, and to tackle the ongoing global ecological crisis.”
At the beginning of the European outbreak of the pandemic, the failure of EU leaders to draft and agree upon a bailout plan for countries hard-hit by the coronavirus sparked fear among some that nationalist attitudes would prevent an accord from being reached, and that the failure to agree could be the beginning of the end of the EU altogether.
COMECE in a lengthy reflection paper on the recovery plan insisted that if individualistic trends are to be overcome and the dignity of the human person is to be put back at the center of all policies, solidarity is needed, which they said, “is at the heart of the European Union and will be the key in the recovery.”
Titled, “One year after: What place for social, ecological and contributive justice in the EU recovery package?” and drafted by COMECE’s Social Affairs Commission, the reflection paper says that the EU recovery package seeks “to strike a balance between economic growth, the protection of the environment and answering the immediate needs of the people who have been most affected by the crisis.”
They praised the European Green Deal, a set of policy initiatives outlined by the European Commission with the goal of making Europe climate neutral in 2050, which received a large increase in funding – jumping from 7.5 billion to 17.5 billion in the recovery package – as an important step to recovery, alongside other investments made toward climate action in the long-term recovery plan.
On the environment, COMECE offered several policy recommendations, insisting that EU funds must be used “wisely” to support both “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor,” making social inclusion a priority and focusing on structural reforms and investments with long-term environmental benefits.
COMECE bishops also asked that the push to digitalize economies not interfere with efforts to go green, and they suggested EU member-states develop policies aimed at eradicating the transfer of polluting technologies to other countries.
They also highlighted the social crisis in Europe related to an increase in unemployment since the pandemic began.
According to Eurostat, an entity of the European Commission that offers statistics on the European Union, the unemployment rate in Europe was at 7.3 percent as of January 2021, which was up from 6.6 percent in January 2020, however, between December 2020 and January 2021, the total employment income dropped throughout the EU, largely due to absences, reduced hours, or job losses as a result of COVID-19.
Going forward, bishops recommended that the impact of the EU recovery fund be monitored over time, and that an “open and frank dialogue” be had with all stakeholders to allow the package “to achieve a just recovery to the benefit of the common good.”
To prevent a culture of waste, they also asked that EU institutions develop “a clear measuring, reporting and evaluating” of both the social and environmental impact of recovery policies over time.
They also asked that immediate assistance be given to families in need, and that an investment be made into structural reforms that will boost employment and social initiatives aimed at cohesion, education, and labor market reforms, among other things.
More efforts should be made for “long-term, coherent, and sustainable” investments in “reskilling and upskilling,” in order to allow future generations more avenues of success, they said.
COMECE also criticized what they called “structures of sin” that allow crimes such as tax evasion and other similar offenses to occur, arguing that everyone has the responsibility to contribute to recovery efforts.
Bishops asked that “fair and simple” taxation be promoted to ensure that everyone contributes, saying this step is necessary “to ensure that everyone contributes in a fair way to recovery.”
They also asked that aggressive corporate tax competition and avoidance be stopped in the EU by “harmonizing” the rules on taxable corporate taxable profits.
“The globalization of the economy has intensified tax competition within the EU and at international level. We have observed a ‘race to the bottom’ of corporate tax rates since the 1980s,” the bishops said, noting that while this trend is slowing down, “we need to avoid another wave and harmonize rules around corporate tax.”
Overall, COMECE said they welcome the EU recovery package as “a new sign of solidarity in the European Union,” which they said offers much-needed help to those affected by COVID-19.
They urged all member-states to ratify their own national plans so the recovery fund can be operational by this summer.
“We are hopeful that from this crisis we can come out stronger, wiser, more united, exercising more solidarity, caring more for our common home, being a continent that pushes the whole world forward towards greater fraternity, justice, peace and equality,” they said.