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SYRIZA EU Delegation: A European Emergency Response and Social Relief Plan against the Coronavirus Pandemic

SYRIZA EU Delegation: A European Emergency Response and Social Relief Plan against the Coronavirus Pandemic

General aspect

The coronavirus crisis questions the very essence of the global and European structures. Beyond the loss of thousands of people, this pandemic threatens critical systems of public health, food security, civil protection, economic and financial stability, regional and social cohesion, the fundamental rights and rule of law, employment, sustainable development and the environment and democratic government.

The COVID-19 pandemic demands swift and unprecedented action at European scale. The depth of the crisis and the scope of the response mean that choices being made right now will shape our society for decades to come. As we take steps to ensure immediate relief and long-term recovery, it is imperative that we consider the interrelated crises of wealth inequality, democratic legitimacy and ecological decline, which now risk being even more exacerbated.

The EU needs an Emergency Response and Social Relief Plan, which will protect lives, job, social rights and incomes. We face an unprecedented, global public health emergency. We need an unprecedented response. Old recipes based on neo-liberal policies and lack of solidarity among member-states have failed in the past. The EU needs common policies based on solidarity and social justice, in order to immediately support all people (especially the most vulnerable), our health systems and other public services, employees, enterprises (especially SMEs) and the self-employed. The EU after this enormous crisis will not be the same again. The EU must emerge resilient.
While we have welcomed most of the measures already taken by the EU institutions, we believe that they are nowhere near sufficient to deal with the scale of this crisis. The SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance delegation in the European Parliament calls for a massive, coordinated European Emergency Response and Social Relief Plan, whatever the cost.

EU Emergency Response and Social Relief Plan

We are calling for an EU-wide economic Emergency Response and Social Relief Plan, based on the following principles and specific measures:

Six principles for a Just Pandemic Relief and Social Recovery

1. Health is the top priority, for all people, with no exceptions

In a growing number of EU member states, healthcare systems under chronic pressure from austerity policies, deregulation, privatisation and disinvestment are reaching their limits and healthcare and security service personnel and other professionals are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the coronavirus, often lacking basic Personal Protection Equipment. We support the calls for free and accessible testing, treatment, and protective equipment to all citizens; expanded hospital capacity; expanded public funding for the Public Health System. Flattening the curve of infections means years of increased demand of Public Health Services. Critically, the governments must guarantee access to preventive and curative health care for all, with no exceptions, irrespective of their employment or immigration status.

2. Fundamental Rights and Rule of law are to be respected, during the crisis and afterwards

Several Member States have taken exceptional measures to combat the pandemic. It is of outmost importance that those measures are strictly short -limited and under parliamentary scrutiny, that they are proportionate, coherent and necessary, serving only the purpose of saving lives and ensuring public health. The crisis shall not serve as a pretext, or as means, for governments to undermine democracy and rule of law, to limit the fundamental rights of citizens or to establish large-scale surveillance, either now or after the public health crisis is over. This applies also for the EU as a whole, including for the right to freedom of movement within the EU, and the Commission shall have to play an active role to ensure the observance of all fundamental rights and democratic procedures. Enhanced surveillance measures and the curtailing of fundamental human rights must not be tolerated. Authoritarianism must be resisted at all costs. We call on all people to be kind and stand in solidarity.

3. Provide economic relief directly to the people

We support the urgent calls to expand the social safety net by safeguarding jobs, broadening unemployment insurance, vastly increasing food aid programs, extending housing assistance, expanding childcare for working families, relieving personal debt, and halting evictions, foreclosures, and shut offs of water and electricity. In addition, to counteract the economic downturn for the duration of social distancing measures, the governments should immediately directly support financially all citizens, based on social criteria. These payments should be made swiftly and regularly throughout the duration of the economic recession.

4. Rescue workers and communities, not corporate profits

Any financial assistance directed at specific industries must be channeled to workers and vulnerable populations, not simply to support shareholders. Specifically, any state guaranteed loans must be used to maintain payroll and benefits, not executive bonuses or stock buybacks. In addition, such funds should come with pro-worker conditions, such as requiring worker representation on the company’s board of directors, and compliance with high-road labor standards such as payment of high wages, use of collective bargaining and collective agreements, and adoption of a hiring policy to ensure fair employment opportunities for all.

5. Make a down payment on a regenerative economy, while preventing future crises

While we urgently need a large, short-term stimulus to protect the health and economic security of those on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, it is imperative that we also enact a large, medium-term fiscal stimulus to counteract the economic downturn and ensure a just recovery, since the crisis will generate increasing inequalities among and inside the Member States. This stimulus should create high-quality and family-sustaining jobs; counter systemic inequities by directing investments to the working families who face the most economic insecurity; and tackle the climate crisis that is compounding threats to our economy and health. Critically, stimulus packages should include conditions for industries to implement high quality labor standards, workforce development, and drastic reductions in climate emissions and toxic pollution. The response to one existential crisis must not fuel another.

6. Respond to climate and environmental emergency

The COVID-19 pandemic can not be understood separately from the climate ad environmental emergency. Therefore the Commission and the Council must work tirelessly and fast on a truly ambitious Climate Law and keep pushing for ambition on all different parts of the Green Deal, such as the Farm to Fork Strategy, the Circular Economy Action Plan, the Biodiversity Strategy, the Adaptation Strategy and the announced legislative proposals. In addition, all public funding must adhere to the proposed Regulation on the Establishment of a Framework to Facilitate Sustainable Investment, the so-called “Taxonomy Regulation”.

Measures for the implementation of the EU Emergency Response and Social Relief Plan

A. Protect lives, whatever the cost

• The crisis highlights the need for coordination and a common European health policy with a significant increase in the European budget. We call for the establishment of a Common Health Policy as an internal policy of the European Union for the coordination between the member states and the implementation of robust policies that will ensure equal access to high quality Public Health services for all Europeans. The delayed reaction of the European Union to address the pandemic is deplorable. We are deeply worried about the lack of solidarity of certain member states to those affected most by the crisis.

• Immediate, massive public spending to bolster healthcare systems that are unprepared for this situation and which have, in many countries, been ravaged by a decade of EU-imposed austerity. Crucially, this means not only treatment, but active testing and tracing. All EU institutions and funds must be directed towards this effort.

• Investment to ensure that the safety of frontline healthcare workers is protected, and that every precautionary measure is also taken for essential workers in other sectors such as supermarkets, pharmacies, food production, preparation and delivery, medical manufacturing, police, firefighters, security forces etc, and for workers who are not permitted to work from home.

• Member-States must be prepared to take radical measures in vital sectors to respond to the public health emergency, including nationalising sectors if deemed necessary, to direct the response effort. This includes private healthcare facilities; producers of protective equipment, respirators and ventilators; food production and distribution; postal services; and medical research and development.

B. Budgetary measures

• Immediate enhancement, mobilisation, and redirection of funds to boost the fiscal effort. Member states must have immediate access to the EU’s structural funds, including the European Solidarity Fund, to respond to the crisis. The existing EU Budget must be enhanced and redirect further funds into cohesion funding that can be drawn down by member states, on the basis of need.

• Around 4 billion euros of unallocated margins and flexibilities remain available in the 2020 budget. Additionally, around 3 billion euros are available from the 2019 budgetary surplus. The Commission should take all necessary action (including legislative proposals) to direct them for the fight against coronavirus and its social and economic impact.

• At the same time, flexibility in redirecting resources is needed more than ever in order to avoid time-consuming procedures and procedural dead-ends.

• The unprecedented circumstances call for a much more ambitious MFF 2021-2027 with increased funding for cohesion, climate and health policies to address the actual crisis. This also calls for immediate actions for an MFF contingency plan in order to ensure, in the meantime, the continuation of the EU programmes.

C. Protect jobs, incomes and social security

• The economic crisis caused by the coronavirus cannot be an excuse for employers and companies to reduce salaries and further infringe labour rights. All employees should be fully protected against dismissals. This includes avoiding the non-renewal of fixed-term or temporary contracts and false self-employed persons. Social dialogue between member states and the social partners must be respected fully regarding collective bargaining, existing agreements and workplace health and safety issues. Now more than ever it is necessary to adopt the frame for the European minimum wage.

• Employers, the state and the EU must ensure that workers in all other sectors work from home, or stay at home for social distancing purposes. The measures that should now be taken must give priority to the protection of all workers, including those working in atypical and precarious works. Domestic workers, migrants and platform workers, independent workers and freelancers as well as frontier and seasonal workers, the unemployed and those in work-poverty and homelessness must be fully protected. Considering the pandemic, the highest standards of working conditions, wages, work time and in particular health protection, especially the necessary protective measures against Corona virus, must be ensured. The workers exploited by the informal economy must also be protected.

• In order to avoid mass redundancies and widespread bankruptcy of businesses forced to close for the duration of the crisis, the state should act to provide the necessary means for companies to survive and to continue paying their employees. Businesses, especially SMEs, and the self-employed must be sufficiently protected, inter alia, by providing zero-rated loans, freezing all current liabilities towards banks, utilities, taxes and social security authorities as well as against evictions due to debts from business suspension. Collective bargaining is among the best tools to ensure democratic and social rights of workers. The Danish example regarding the agreement reached between the government and social partners, could be a useful model to strengthen the right to work.

• All people in need, welfare recipients, families suffering from poverty must urgently be financially assisted in order for them to be able to purchase the necessary goods during the self-isolation period. The unemployed and the most exposed, should receive higher benefits to meet their increased needs. Housing/family/social allowances must be raised.

• Although, the new instrument for temporary Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE) is considered as a first step towards protecting jobs and workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic, further elaboration and additional measures are necessary. The SURE proposal should ensure workers’ jobs, salaries and labour rights and should not replace the Eurobond solution proposed by 9 countries. The financial assistance, in the form of loans should be granted on zero interest from the EU to Member States, as a first step of up to €100 billion, with inclusion of all the affected directly or indirectly regions, supporting the EU cohesion targets.

D. Protect housing and access to vital services for those without incomes

• All households and all economically and socially vulnerable persons must be provided with the necessary means that guarantee a decent standard of living.

• Mortgage payments must be suspended for the duration of the crisis, and evictions prohibited. Substantial financial assistance should be provided for rental payment.

• Vital household utilities including electricity, gas, water, phone and broadband must remain connected and payments waived or deferred.

• Household debt repayments should be suspended for the duration of the crisis.

• Member States should make an unconditional payment 2000 € to less privileged EU citizen to ensure that each household can meet its basic needs while engaged in social distancing or quarantine.

E. Actions to support vulnerable social groups against violence and protect mental health

• The protection of life, and the protection of physical and mental health, are fundamental human rights that must be integrated into EU policies. Emergency and restrictive measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have placed societies in unprecedented conditions of social distancing, and official data from various countries report an increasing outbreak of domestic violence.

• Τhe imposed social isolation measures and restrictions, the feelings of fear even for the loss of the lives of their own and their loved ones, combined also with the growing uncertainty about their work and financial future, are factors that can easily put mental balance at risk, and trigger unpredictable behaviors such as anxiety, depression, psychosomatic symptoms, post traumatic stress, anger and even violent reactions and actions.

• Initiatives and resources are needed to create stronger mechanisms aimed at shielding the mental health of all citizens experiencing this unprecedented crisis, as well as protecting vulnerable groups, especially women, children, seniors, homeless, prisoners, drug addict and refugees. This means strengthening the mental health care structures and units and carrying out information and public awareness campaigns, so that that citizens are aware of the risk and the limits of their rights, the available services and structures and where they can seek help, if they are victims of violent behavior.

F. Leave no one behind

• The EU and member states must ensure that fundamental rights are protected at all times and that nobody is left behind. Specific measures must be taken in order to strengthen the medical assistance and promote the measures recommended by the WHO in order to protect the lives, health and social security of all, but mostly of the more vulnerable, such as homeless people, asylum seekers, prisoners and other persons who do not have a place of their own to effectively carry out social distancing or other preventive and curative measures. In this regard, we call for the early release of low-risk offenders, elderly people and most vulnerable, and to increase the recourse to non-custodial measures.

• We urge the Commission to work with all Member States, especially with the Greek authorities, in the direction of ensuring that policies relating to asylum seekers are also under the perspective of public health and call them to take all the preventive and curative measures necessary in this regard. Notably, to use the available EU funding and immediately proceed with the decongestion of the camps and the transfer of those in high risk to places where they can apply social distancing and other preventive measures. At the same time, we insist on the request of a large-scale relocation of refugees in the Member States, starting by the most vulnerable.

• The coronavirus crisis will further increase regional and social inequalities, which were anyway getting wider and unsustainable. The Commission and Member States should unequivocally commit to a just and well-managed transition towards a resilient and sustainable society, making social cohesion and solidarities top priorities. A new EU economic governance framework and a new Pact for Sustainable Development and Employment is needed to ensure inclusive growth and fair economic development, fight poverty, inequalities and unemployment.

G. Twelve economic measures to prevent new sovereign debt and financial crises

1. The immediate issue of a "coronabond" by the ECB, as an emergency eurobond, is necessary to strengthen social infrastructure in the member states and restart their economy. We emphasize the need for new EU own resources to be developed in order to fund both the health systems and the economic recovery after the crisis;

2. As the COVID19 pandemic and the resulting economic recession, the climate emergency, and extreme inequality are highly interconnected and a direct threat to democratic institutions we call on the European Commission to increase the budget of the Sustainable Investment Plan to 2 trillion euros that will fund a progressive European Social and Green Deal with the aim of creating millions of new jobs, restoring social cohesion, preparing our health systems to handle future pandemics, building resilience and addressing climate emergency.

3. In this context, a European Marshall Plan-type funding program will be required with a sufficient amount, in order to strengthen public health systems, social infrastructure and the economy. This intervention will go beyond the important national fiscal measures and will complement each other. We stress that the Growth and Stability Pact hinders economic recovery and ask for its replacement by a Sustainable Development and Employment Pact that will exclude environmental, health and social public investment from the calculation of public deficit; Immediately suspend the debt and deficit rules in the Stability and Growth Pact and Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure, in order for governments to be able to spend the amount required to meet this challenge.

4. It is economically and politically counter-productive that the EU urges Member States to lend through ESM up to 2% of GDP accepting to subordinate in ECCL terms. In this way the mainstream EU approach insists on diverging economies and punishing the citizens of the weakest economies. The ECB’s Pandemic Emergency Purchasing Programme (PEPP) announced on March 18 was a step forward but is not enough to counteract this threat.

5. The EU institutions, particularly the ECB, need to act urgently to prevent new financial and sovereign debt crises from developing. The ECB must commit to act as the lender of last resort for member states. Its sovereign bond-buying programmes must be unconditional, unlimited and based on the spending needs of member states
6. The ESM should play a key role against the pandemic. Τhe euro area Member States should use the remaining capacity of the ESM (more than 400 billion) to fund an EU-wide programme to support and restart the economy that will permit unconditional, zero-interest credit lines to be provided to Member States in need of funding. The capacity of the ESM must increase commensurately with the needs of recovery.

7. Providing liquidity to banks and financial markets is not efficient to support the real economy and could cause new financial bubbles; SMEs must be directly supported. The ECB should repurpose its quantitative easing policies, in particular its corporate sector purchasing programme, to significantly increase its direct support to SMEs, conditional on the business’s commitment to the protection of employment, rights and income.

8. Financial markets should be more strictly regulated to prevent speculative attacks. Short-selling should be prohibited.The European Securities and Markets Authority should set guidelines and work with national competent authorities to reduce these risks to financial stability.

9. Suspend EU state aid rules. Immediately suspend EU state aid rules in order to allow governments to support, or nationalise if deemed necessary, vital sectors such as healthcare, research and development, production of medical equipment etc.

10. Assistance for SMEs from the European Investment Bank. The role of EIB is crucial, as a guarantor for better harmonisation and effectiveness on terms and conditions. The EIB must be used to its maximum potential to provide funds to micro and small businesses, conditional on the business’s commitment to the protection of employment, rights and income. The creation by the EIB of the 200 billion Pan-European Guarantee Fund, which included 25 billion from the Member States with immediate action to support people and businesses, is a positive move in the right direction.

11. Given that travel and tourism is a powerful accelerator of economic growth and represent more than 10% of the EU-GDP, we call on the Commission to launch immediately a European rescue plan for tourism to ensure that every job is protected and the overall damage to the sector does not become irreversible. The EU must include a separate budget line in the next MFF for sustainable tourism. The necessary financial mechanisms should be used for the tourism sector and especially for the most vulnerable, and tourism-dependent regions. An EU-wide crisis management mechanism in tourism supported by European funds is necessary.

12. The coronavirus is a pandemic. A health crisis in one country affects the rest of the world. The EU must immediately lift sanctions on third countries affected by the coronavirus crisis, which directly or indirectly limit access to medical and humanitarian goods, thereby collectively punishing civilians and exacerbating the pandemic, and push internationally for other countries to do the same.

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