What kind of post-corona world do Europeans want?

Каким историческим моментом окажется коронавирус для Европы и всего мира? Он может привести нас к лучшим временам. Он может привести нас к худшим временам. Об этом читайте в статье Тимоти Гартона Эша, члена Совета ECFR и профессора европейских исследований в Оксфордском университете

Timothy Garton Ash, ECFR

The coronavirus crisis seems to be encouraging belief in radical change. An astonishing 71 percent of Europeans are now in favour of introducing a universal basic income, according to an opinion poll designed by my research team at Oxford University and published today. In Britain, the figure is 68 percent. Less encouraging, at least to anyone who believes in liberal democracy, is another startling finding in our survey: no less than 53 percent of young Europeans place more confidence in authoritarian states than in democracies to tackle the climate crisis. Our poll was conducted by eupinions in March this year, as most of Europe was locking down against the virus, but the questions had been formulated earlier. It would be fascinating now to ask Europeans which political system they think has proved better at combating a pandemic, as the United States and China, the world’s leading democracy and the world’s leading dictatorship, spray viral accusations at each other.

Those two contrasting but equally striking survey results show how high the stakes will be as we emerge from the immediate medical emergency, and face the subsequent economic pandemic and its political fallout. What kind of historical moment will this turn out to be, for Europe and the world? It could lead us to the best of times. It could lead us to the worst of times. The proposal for a universal basic income was, until recently, often dismissed as far-out and utopian. But during the anti-pandemic lockdowns, many developed countries have introduced something close to it, not for everyone, to be sure, but certainly for large parts of the population. Spain’s economy minister has said that its ‘minimum vital income’ could become a permanent instrument in the country’s system. Hardly a day passes now when I do not read another article suggesting that universal basic income, or some variant of it, is an idea whose time has come.

This would be one ingredient of a possible future in which we manage to turn one of the greatest crises of the post-war world into one of its greatest opportunities. We address the soaring inequality, both economic and cultural, that has been eroding the foundations even of established liberal democracies such as Britain and the US. Having learned during the lockdown to work in different ways, more from home and with less unnecessary travel, we turn this into a new life-work model. Having appreciated the cleaner air and clearer skies, the sounds of birdsong not drowned out by traffic and the slow changes of nature that we had previously been too busy to notice, we will get serious about taking the radical steps needed both to address climate change and to give us a better quality of life.

After turning out on our balconies and rooftops, all across Europe, to applaud the doctors, nurses, and social care and other essential workers who have been risking their lives to save our own, we do not forget them once the medical danger has passed. Not only do they get a better deal socially and economically – the post-war slogan ‘homes fit for heroes’ comes to mind – but there is also what Polish populists slyly call a ‘redistribution of respect’. And in making that necessary redistribution, we also deprive the nationalist populists of their electoral appeal.

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