It is hard to believe how much and how dramatically the world has changed since we last met. In the blink of an eye, a virus that started on the other side of the world has become a deadly pandemic with tragic consequences also here in Europe.
In a heartbeat, our lifestyles changed. Our streets emptied. Our doors closed. And we went from business as usual to the fight of our lives. In that time, we have seen the fragility of life laid bare in front of our eyes. And we have seen tragedy on a scale unimaginable even just a few short weeks ago in the heart of Europe. My heart goes out to all of the victims and their loved ones. And all of our thoughts and best wishes are with those currently fighting for their lives or sick at home. But while the virus has hit us hard, the people of Europe have hit back just as hard.
But what is unique about this fight is that every single one of us has a role to play. Every single one of us can help repay that debt. By keeping our distance we can slow down the spread of the virus. The numbers in the last few days have shown that we can bend the trend – but only if we all do our share.
This is why I am convinced that while we may be sitting further apart than usual, we must work closer together than ever before. We must look out for each other, we must pull each other through this.Because if there is one thing that is more contagious than this virus, it is love and compassion. And in the face of adversity, the people of Europe are showing how strong that can be.
This is the example that the European Union must follow. By each doing our little bit, we can truly help each other a lot. And our role as Europe’s institutions, policy makers and leaders is to show that same trust, that same unity and that same leadership
A crisis without borders cannot be resolved by putting barriers between us. And yet, this is exactly the first reflex that many European countries had. This simply makes no sense. Because there is not one single Member State that can meet its own needs when it comes to vital medical supplies and equipment. Not one.
The free movement of goods and services is therefore our strongest, and frankly, our only asset to ensure supplies can go where they are needed most. It makes no sense that some countries unilaterally decided to stop exports to others in the Internal Market. And this is why the Commission intervened when a number of countries blocked exports of protective equipment to Italy. It is why we issued guidelines for border measures to protect health and keep goods and essential services available.
The whole set of measures that we have taken reflects the unprecedented situation we are all in. But as I said earlier, the people of Europe are watching what happens next. And they of course want us to do everything we can to save as many lives as we can.
But they are also thinking about the day after. They are thinking about what job they will have to go back to, what will happen to their business and to their employers. What will happen to their savings and their mortgage? They will worry about their parents, their neighbour, their local community. They will know that their governments had to make difficult decisions to save lives – yes.
But they will also remember who was there for them – and who was not. And they will remember those that acted – and those who did not. And they will remember the decisions that we take today – or those we will not. The point is that sometime soon there will be a day after. And our job is to make sure that on that day – and on all that follow it – the European Union is there for those that need it. What we do now really matters.
And this is why we launched the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative to help direct EUR 37 billion mitigate the impact of the crisis, to save lives, jobs and businesses.
This is why we adopted the most flexible ever temporary rules on state aid to enable Member States to give a lifeline to their businesses. The first cases were approved in record time, within a matter of hours.
And this is why, for the first time in our history, we have activated the general escape clause in the Stability and Growth Pact. That means that Member States can use all the firepower they have to support those in work or those out of work, to support businesses small and big, and to support people through these tough times. That is the Europe that people must remember on the day after.
A Europe that works at top speed when it feels as though the whole world has pressed pause. A Europe that is there for its people and Member States when they need it most. A Europe that has empathy and puts compassion above all else. A Europe that in times of need is both resilient and selfless. That is the Europe I want.
In recent days many of you have quoted Jean Monnet on Europe being forged in crises. This still stands true today. But there is a quote from another founding father which I think also sums up where we are. Konrad Adenauer once said that ‘History is the sum total of things that could have been avoided.’ Dear friends, history is watching us. Let us do the right thing together – with one big heart, not 27 small ones.