The EU “should lead by example” for recovery from COVID-19 but must face its own shortcomings to reduce existing and new social inequalities, FEPS President Maria JoÃ£o Rodrigues told EURACTIV in an interview.
The chairman of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) independent think tank added that there is still no real global solution to tackle the pandemic.
“We have big failures on global governance, first of all, on the competences of the World Health Organization,” she said, adding that tThe UN health agency “should be the body with the skills and the means to adopt real global rules and binding rules.”
Rodrigues said the WHO “remains a very weak organization so far,” and called for urgent reforms to ensure it “has the financial means to expand access to new versions of the vaccine. “, required by the new variants.
She also deplored the postponement of the WTO Ministerial Meeting following the travel bans introduced on the Omicron variant. The meeting was scheduled to be held on Monday, November 29, to discuss a proposal by India and South Africa to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines.
Access to vaccines varies greatly from region to region, with a huge gap in vaccination rate between low and high income countries. For example, in Europe, 66% of the population is fully vaccinated, while the share of people vaccinated in Africa is only 7%.
“As long as this great divide remains, there is no real solution to fight the pandemic,” Rodrigues said, calling for more international cooperation.
However, she added that the EU has turned out to be “a good example” in dealing with the crisis at regional level and could “give some ideas for a global solution”.
Rodrigues said the EU could develop “exceptional fiscal capacity” to support member states affected by the crisis.
For the first time last year, EU leaders agreed to a common EU debt to fund the â¬ 750 billion stimulus package, allowing the European Commission to borrow in the markets on behalf of the 27 states members.
In Rodrigues’ opinion, this showed strong solidarity in tackling the pandemic within the bloc and dealing with the recession.
“If we have other regional organizations like the African Union, ASEAN in Asia or the Union for South America playing the same role, that could help a lot,” she said.
However, Rodrigues also admitted that the EU is still behind on recovery and “needs to change a lot to improve its own solution”.
COVID-19 has exacerbated existing inequalities across the bloc and has been particularly hard on young Europeans. A Eurostat survey shows that young workers suffered income losses of up to -15% in 2020 compared to the previous year.
“We have a shocking situation in which we have the most competent, skilled and creative generation, which is our young generation, pushed for precarious living and working conditions, which reduce their ability and potential to contribute to our societies” , said Rodrigues.
To combat the impact of the pandemic on young people, the The European Commission has proposed to make 2022 the European Year of Youth. The aim is to give young people more opportunities in education and employment.
âWe cannot afford to have a new lost generation, after the one we lost during the financial crisis 10 years ago,â Rodrigues said.
According to her, the EU should tackle these inequalities while moving towards “a new development model”, based on the green transition and the digital revolution.
When asked if the EU is at the forefront of these transformations, Rodrigues said Europe remains a leading example on Green Deal commitments. Nonetheless, she fears that it may fall short of its digitization goals.
An analysis of Member States’ recovery plans has shown that they below the 2030 digital targets.
“On the digital revolution, we are late and therefore we need to have some kind of wake-up call,” Rodrigues told EURACTIV.
She said Europe must act urgently not to be left behind in the face of strategic competition between the United States and China.
âWe must have a European way of leading the digital revolution, which is in line with our values ââand the way we want to live. “
Digital and green transformations must be based on strong social cohesion to ensure a fair recovery of the EU, Rodrigues said.
âWe need to have social cohesion; otherwise, I’m not kidding myself, the green transition and the digital revolution will create new social inequalities that are extremely worrying and strong.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]