The coronavirus crisis is forcing policy makers and citizens to reassess both the scope and the role of government policy, at every level. As the crisis evolves, and, hopefully becomes more managed and contained, policy and decision makers at EU and national level will need to deal with the re-ordering of some of their priorities on their paths to recovery, they will need to assess citizens’ appetite for public intervention and, perhaps above all, gage how they might secure democratic consent for bold policy interventions in the aftermath of a moment that will have simultaneously depleted their resources, taxed citizens’ forbearance for sacrifice, increased the necessity of bold policy change, but perhaps also increased the willingness of some to make the most of the opportunities for deep system change—for better or for worse.
Making sure that positive system change results from this trajectory will depend on a deep understanding of people’s motivations, attitudes and desires, and the capacity to appeal to them and frame policy change in ways that tap into the better angels of their nature.
One of the areas in which the EU and member states might experience the biggest challenges for the continued pursuit of reform is the European Green Deal (EGD). Indeed, the debate around the EGD will crystallise the paradox that COVID-19 is already revealing: the need to address deep inequalities (that will have been worsened by the crisis) and restart the economy while harnessing lessons from the crisis in order to avoid an almost inevitable deeper one (including climate catastrophe).
In the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, citizens may understandably be attracted by two objectives that might at first appear to be incompatible. On the one hand, rapid recovery (at any cost, and potentially through traditional means and traditional industries), as well as, on the other hand, by the perspective of a healthier and more balanced (and more secure) long-term social, economic and environmental contract, that addresses some of the dysfunctionalities revealed by the crisis through bold policy-making and the green transition. So, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, an already fragmented landscape of attitudes across the EU, may be even more fragmented, appetite for climate policy more chequered or fragile; or potentially more demanding. Or both.
Could this result in an even more polarised Europe—one in which divisions between North and South, or East and West reassert themselves even more strikingly? Or will political and civil society leaders be able to secure democratic consent for the policies of the EGD? and if so, how? These are the questions we will explore both qualitatively and quantitatively over the next 24 months.
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