The Covid-19 pandemic has both exploited and laid bare a number of weaknesses and structural deficiencies affecting our social and economic models, in Europe and beyond. The very inception of the disease was a vivid reminder of the cost of the - largely unsustainable - forms of intense land and animal farming that our economies, consumption models, and global supply chains, seemingly depend on. While the pandemic has firmly placed at the heart of the political debate the issues of biodiversity, climate change, and just transitions, it is far from clear that the post-pandemic road to economic recovery will be green and sustainable, let alone just.
It is also clear that this is not an ‘equal opportunities’ pandemic. Longstanding structural inequalities meant that some of the most vulnerable and marginalized communities in our societies were disproportionally affected both in terms of illness and mortality rates and in terms of the unprecedented levels of poverty and destitution triggered by the pandemic. It is also increasingly evident that the top wealth and income percentiles have greatly benefited from responses to the pandemic, and that our societies will, eventually, exit the pandemic with more and deeper inequalities than ever before, in spite of unprecedented levels of public spending and public intervention in the economy and labour markets.
In the meantime, the pandemic is having and will continue to have, profound transformative effects on some of the key institutional arrangements underpinning our societies, placing them under strain. Our labour markets are being profoundly reshaped. Labour protection systems, and the labour movement, will need to respond but, beyond that, welfare states will also be expected to come up with innovative solutions capable of addressing old and new challenges and guaranteeing a decent income for all, and societies will need to identify new ways of mutualizing fairly the risks rather than letting them disproportionately fall on individual workers.
The pandemic has also forced societies to reassess the role of the State in regulating markets, the economy, and society at large. The resilience of our economic and societal structures and our, chronically underfunded, public services have also been shaken to the core. Decades of neoliberal and austerity-driven reforms had depleted our health systems and overstretched our industrial base and productive infrastructure. While unprecedented levels of public spending eventually managed to upgrade some of the essential services and vital infrastructure, it soon became clear that even substantial cash injections could not magic out the millions of nurses, doctors, and care personnel required to tackle the pandemic.
The pandemic has also cast a new light on how public opinion is formed and shaped, how decision-making processes allow for genuine participation and produce legitimate outcomes (including through industrial democracy processes), and the level of control to which private individuals can be subject, either by the State or by corporate actors.
The rebuilding of societies and economies in the context of the COVID-19 crisis offers a unique opportunity to transform in a comprehensive way the global economic system and make it resilient to future shocks, while ensuring environmental sustainability, intergenerational fairness, a dignified existence, and a just share of the fruits of progress for all. This is the time to recast a new social-ecological contract for the future.
Achieving these goals will require also addressing three key paradoxes that – if left unresolved - are likely to hamper or slow down any progress towards change.
Our task as ETUI, is to push the ambitions of the post-covid reconstruction narratives beyond the cosmetic or patchy solutions that will invariably emerge in some quarters. As once put by the author of a no less socially ambitious reform project, William Beveridge, ‘A revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolutions, not for patching'. Our times are ripe for a new generation of innovative and comprehensive policy and reform ideas – the ones that will shape the transformative debates for the next decade - to be brought to the fore and defined in greater detail.
The ETUI is bringing together an internationally recognized group of progressive thinkers and radical intellectuals, in order to offer a comprehensive rewriting of the rules of the economy and society, and to lay out a range of policy and reform ideas to reshape our futures along with the guiding principles of economic and environmental sustainability, equality, distributive justice, democracy, and resilience.