By Bernat Solé i Barril, Minister for Foreign Action, Institutional Relations and Transparency at the Government of Catalonia.
Since its global outbreak in March, and almost without prior notice, COVID-19 paved the way for uncertainty. The crisis generated by the pandemic made constant change common, by transforming the way we live and work and creating countless effects from the near-collapse of healthcare systems to unemployment, inequality and growing public debt.
In such a context, citizens tend to turn their eyes to governments in search of solutions. But this logic reaction becomes particularly challenging in Europe, where multilevel governance prevails and multiple authorities exist at the local, regional, national, European and global levels.
Facing this crossroads, some governments choose to isolate themselves, as if today’s multipolar world was conformed of atomic entities left unaffected by decisions at the international level. Quite the opposite. Troubling times teach us the need to move from unilaterality to common action to place citizens regardless of their age, gender, origin and economic situation at the centre of our policies.
The Government of Catalonia has always stressed the urgency to act in this direction. Committed to multilateralism and unambiguously pro-European, Catalonia has invariably pushed for the idea that action beyond the traditional local and national spheres is essential, fostering the presence of stateless nations, regions and cities in decentralized decision-making.
In this sense, while EU leaders approved a new recovery plan for Europe (Next Generation EU) and a new Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027, amounting to a total of €1.82 trillion, national governments adopted a series of emergency measures to counter the pandemic’s impact, including loans, tax relief and cash grants. But what about regions?
The past 21 of July, the Government of Catalonia approved an Economic Reactivation and Social Protection Plan entrenched in the long-term goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as well as the European Green Deal and the Digital Europe program.
The plan contains 20 projects and 145 actions that give an effective and transversal response to the COVID-19 crisis, aiming at reinforcing the region’s welfare state and productive capacity, reducing its heightened social inequalities and accelerating the transition to a more digital, sustainable and resilient economy.
Amounting to a total of 31.765 M€, the plan mainly comprises immediate measures to mitigate the crisis’ effects, such as emergency plans to protect employment and innovation in the health sector, further grants to cover the basic needs of the most vulnerable, and a digital education plan to make citizens digitally literate. But there’s more – it also contains long-term strategical actions, pointing towards a thorough transformation of the agri-food industry or achieving climate neutrality and sustainable mobility.
For instance, transparency and communication are at the plan’s core. During lockdowns, our Government held more than 50 press conferences to inform the population of new infections and restrictive measures, while a specific portal within its Open Government website included 37 sets of open data on unemployment benefits, emergency contracts, waste generation and the use of public transport.
And the efforts did not stop here. We also stressed the importance of sharing experiences and cooperating with equivalent actors, agreeing with various European regions in the common will to overcome the COVID-19 crisis from regional positions and defend the role of regions in managing EU funds.
This finally led us to establish a platform of 14 regions (so far) for the exchange of good practices, initiatives and projects as well as to adopt common ideological stances in front of national governments, the European Commission, the Committee of the Regions or other networks at the European level.
Only five months ago, COVID-19 wiped out the world we knew and pushed us to an uncertain reality. But it is now up to all of us to reshape this uncertainty through both short and long-term strategic actions within all layers of European multilevel governance that examine the mistakes of the past to make our system more sustainable and resilient to the disruptions of the post-COVID-19 future.