Europe needs a huge amount of money to deal with the pandemic and its consequences. Just as urgently, it needs to establish the mechanisms to collect and distribute those funds. The money will support countries in their hour of need; the right institutions will improve the functioning of the EU itself, strengthen ties between member-states and secure conditions for the Union’s long-term survival.
The Marshall Plan was decisive in helping countries in Western Europe recover after World War II; but it was the organizations that were established at the conference at Bretton Woods in the United States that formed the basis for international development, prosperity and good governance which benefited not only Europe and the US but the rest of the world as well.
What Europe needs today is to reinforce the principles of the rule of law and equal opportunity that were established at the end of 1944. These provided the economic and political stability in which the European project of peace, prosperity and unification could take shape. At a time when the international system of governance appears exhausted, with the United States acting unpredictably and China seeming likely to exploit the vacuum, a successful initiative by the European Union would be most useful for the whole world. It would contribute to stability at a crucial moment and show the way forward.
The 13 billion dollars that the Marshall Plan distributed among several European countries in 1948-52 translates into about 135 billion today. This is a large amount but it pales next to the estimated cost of the pandemic that European Union countries face – between 1.5 and 2 trillion euros.
In the post-war period, the money spent was multiplied by the fact that the purpose – reconstruction – was clear and the labor force was well-trained and ready for the needs of the time. Today we need to determine the “multipliers” for the best use of the funds, as well as the architecture for the administration of such large amounts.
The EU has acquired mechanisms that allow it to solve its problems without foreign assistance. Now political decisions must lead to combining different organizations and spheres of responsibility into a functional and credible whole.
Thursday’s teleconference of heads of state and government is one step in a process which, albeit most urgent, must set out clear targets and establish strong foundations for the future – for the good of the EU, the member-states, the world.