With a motion for a resolution on a joint exit strategy out of the Coronavirus crisis, the EU Parliament is putting clear guidelines on the table. It is now up to the European Commission and the Member States to take due account of the demands of the only institution of the European Union with direct democratic legitimacy.
The European Parliament is the only directly elected institution of the European Union. It was therefore all the more noticeable that the Commission and government representatives had so far hardly involved the Parliament when they were developing a joint response to the current crisis. The fact that David Sassoli, the President of the European Parliament, had not been invited to those important video conferences, where the issue of Corona bonds had been discussed among other, was called “bizarre” in the European Parliament. Rumours even circulated that the Netherlands – vehement opponents of Corona bonds – had favoured the exclusion of Sassoli. A claim, which was immediately rejected.
The abrupt switch to digital sessions clearly also presented the European Parliament with some major technical challenges. However, even faced with adverse conditions, Parliament tried to continue its work as best as possible. This week alone, numerous hearings with EU Commissioners took place, where Members of the parliamentary committees were expressing their position regarding the measures of the Commission as well as their demands concerning any future procedure. The Commission had time and again emphasised that the crisis could only be overcome by cooperating well with the European Parliament.
Comprehensive motion for a resolution
In a motion for a resolution, which had been jointly tabled by the Social Democrat S&D faction, EPP, Renew and the Greens and which was adopted on Friday 17 April, the European Parliament demands “a united and decisive response to a shared crisis”. Among other it called for the levelling up of wages and working conditions in strongly female-dominated sectors (for example care, health, and retail sales), safe working conditions for all workers as well as the protection of demographic groups, who are in particular need of protection and people in precarious situations. The resolution also calls for “European solidarity and action in the health sector”, such as open internal EU borders for medical equipment and supply chains in the Single Market as well as for the “Creation of a European Health Response Mechanism”. The Commission is urged to implement an effective exit roadmap. Even during such a serious crisis as the current one, it had to be ensured that democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights were adequately protected. In this context, Hungary is criticised for ruling by decree without time limit and attacking transgender and intersex people’s rights, whereas Poland comes under criticism for changing the electoral code against the judgment of Constitutional Tribunal and provisions laid by law as well as for ongoing criminalization of abortion undermining young people’s access to sexuality education. In addition, Parliament calls for “full respect of the Geneva Convention and European asylum law” and supports a solution for the situation in the refugee camps on the Greek Islands, including the preventive evacuation and relocation of the population at high risk.
“Recovery bonds” as a possible compromise
The European Parliament welcomes the European solutions to overcoming the economic and social consequences. With regard to the controversial Corona bonds it opposes the “mutualisation of existing debt” but calls for “recovery bonds” guaranteed by the EU budget. According to Parliament President Sassoli “we need some form of mutualisation, with respect to the future debt that will be accumulated in the reconstruction plan”. This might be a compromise, which could represent a practicable way forward also for Germany – besides the Netherlands one of the most vehement opponents of the Corona bonds. In case of bonds, which are guaranteed by the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), the European Parliament would also have more control over the funds, as the MFF must be approved of by Parliament. Apart from that, Parliament calls for a European Solidarity Fund of at least EUR 50 billion. The Green Deal and the digital transformation shall be at the core of the recovery and reconstruction package.
“Long live Europe”
In her address before Parliament Commission President von der Leyen apologised that Europe had not been there on time when Italy needed a helping hand at the very beginning of the pandemic. The slow approach by the EU and the national solo initiatives of the Member States had probably done nothing to strengthen the trust in the EU. If one wants to regain this trust in the European Union and maybe emerge from the crisis in an even better position that before, the European Parliament, the democratically elected representation of Europeans, must be involved.