Coronavirus emergency

2020-03-19 Giuseppe Pasini

The Great Europe We Want

A Marshall Plan is needed that does not discriminate against anyone, but helps us all get started again

We will come out of this crisis more Italian. My hope, though, is that Covid-19 will also make us more European.

While we have rediscovered a sense of community and national solidarity, it is also true that at an economic level, this is the time when the great European project envisioned by the founding fathers – De Gasperi, Adenauer, and Schuman – must find its concrete expression.

On a human level, we are understandably clinging to solidarity. But the reality is that we are facing a challenge we had never foreseen, a completely different situation even than the great global crisis of 2008; a true perfect storm. And every storm always risks leaving behind a negative trail, when we are unprepared to face it.

This is one of the lessons of the emergency provoked by the propagation of the coronavirus. While our national health system - that is giving its all - is put to the test daily, our businesses are under similar pressure, and under the weight of continuous cancellation of orders or supplies, we are already seeing the meager growth anticipated for 2020 - about +0.3 percent - slip away.

These are the winds affecting the Italian industries that are a pillar of the country’s economy and society. When this period is over, we will no longer have to deal with the world as before, but we will be in a “year zero” where the principal political and economic points of reference will be different.

For the immediate future, we will have to roll up our sleeves to help the areas of Italy that could be affected after the North of the country; I am thinking in particular of the regions in the South. Once the emergency passes, we will have to think about how to reconstruct what until now was the second largest manufacturing power in Europe.

Germany has announced a plan of 550 billion euros to support their businesses. Unfortunately, Italy cannot afford such a level of support. This is where the idea of a strong Europe, present for everyone, must take shape: a Marshall Plan is needed that does not discriminate against anyone, but helps us all get started again. The responsibility must be assumed by the European Union; this is the only way we can overcome the closed attitudes of today and be stronger tomorrow.

What are the concrete choices to be made? The first point regards legislation. Our production system is characterized by many companies that are part of the global supply chain. To be clearer, in our country there are many companies that supply components along the long chains of production, that often take them outside national borders.

The adoption of national measures to protect and safeguard people’s health in response to the Coronavirus crisis, is having a harsh effect on the execution of national and international contracts, delaying or preventing their performance.

These delays and defaults in turn have effects on other contracts, creating operational and legal difficulties along supply chains. All of this translates into heavy penalties for many entrepreneurs, who in part due to this situation, seriously risk jeopardizing the survival of their businesses. So it becomes a priority to recognize the Covid-19 emergency - and the related urgent measures adopted to contain it - as a cause of force majeure.

For this reason, it is necessary for the government to act quickly with regard to the European Union, to ensure the rapid emergence of an orientation in favor of issuing certificates of force majeure to businesses that are unable to perform contracts, even temporarily. The need for a uniform European policy is dictated by the need to avoid unilateral initiatives by individual states, that would risk being considered limitations of the principles of the common market.

For this reason, I agreed with the request made by the Confindustria industrial association to avoid closing factories by law.

Not all situations are the same, and taking a generalized approach - as regards businesses - is impossible. Only the single entrepreneur possesses all of the elements to make a decision, with all of the resulting consequences. Some have decided to close, and some to keep going.

Expanding social shock absorbers, extending the use of temporary unemployment benefits and the income support fund, providing new liquidity for businesses - starting with a moratorium on loans from the banking system - are now necessary instruments to allow businesses to continue their activities, but they are only some of the starting points.

To try to make this difficult moment an opportunity for overall revival of the system, we have to immediately take appropriate measures, but at the same time look further, using the compass of sustainable development. Precisely at this time, characterized by a forced slowdown or interruption of production, we have a unique opportunity to deeply reflect on what awaits us once the crisis is over. The global context in which we operate as a “country system” requires collegial responsibility and the adoption of virtuous models. This is also due to the indispensable contribution of our businesses, which represent links in those value chains in which the country is heavily integrated. The system generates shared wellbeing, recognizing that work is the pillar of families and society.

Our horizon must not only be that of 2030, and of the 17 sustainable development goals agreed upon by the United Nations. Today, during our difficulties, we must look forward. To 2050, for example: the year in which our continent must be the first in the world with zero emissions.

It is Europe that has traced the path of development with the Green New Deal, that will de facto represent the fifth industrial revolution. The challenge is not simple: we must deeply reassess the entire industrial paradigm of Italy, to continue to create value to be shared within our territories and community, reorienting it towards a model aligned with the principles of sustainability indicated by the EU, that are solid points of reference in these difficult days.

I am certain: Italian industry will rise to the challenge, integrating into its strategic plans the actions that will lead us to gradual decarbonization. We will do it at least until the target set in 2050. This is why our future goes beyond the emergency of today, and must push us - although it seems difficult - to face the challenges of tomorrow with optimism.


Giuseppe Pasini is the Chairman of the Industrial Association of Brescia