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Op-ed | Post-COVID-19 recovery will be a test for women’s rights too

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The op-ed is signed by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, Alexander De Croo, Prime Minister of Belgium, Kaja Kallas, Prime Minister of Estonia, Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Prime Minister of Greece, Micheál Martin, Prime Minister of Ireland, Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania, Pedro Sánchez, Prime Minister of Spain, Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden.

This year is a special International Women’s Day. Not only is it exactly 110 years since the first International Women’s Day, when more than a million women and men joined forces and raised their voices for equal rights.

We are also at an important turning point this year on this 8 March. Over the past year, many of our lives have been temporarily halted by the worst health crisis in generations. As they stood at the forefront in the fight against the pandemic in our hospitals and nursing homes, women were disproportionately affected by the pandemic; they paid a higher price, both economically and socially. Domestic and gender-based violence increased, women took on a larger share of household tasks and Eurostat’s monthly unemployment figures show that while the male unemployment rate increased from 6.2% to 7.1% in December 2020, the increase among women was more significant, from 6.7% to 7.9%.

In the coming years, we need to rebuild our societies and our economies for the better. If we want to grow and thrive in the post-COVID-19 world, we need a more inclusive approach that unlocks all talents, including those of women.

How can we manage to do this?

First of all, we need to move beyond the ideological debates of the past. Equality between women and men is enshrined in article 23 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This right is non-negotiable. It is one of the fundamental pillars on which we have built our European societies.

Secondly, more than ever, we have to advance the economic case for gender equality. Of course, gender equality is morally the right thing to do. But equal opportunities also matter to enable social and economic progress. When women prosper, societies prosper. Gender-equal societies are richer societies, in all senses of the word. Gender equal economies perform better, according to all research.

Whether we manage to build back better will depend on the choices we make when rolling out our post-COVID-19 recovery plans. They are a unique opportunity to rebuild more efficiently and more inclusively, ensuring women’s participation in the economy and addressing income inequalities. If we want to build long-term economic resilience after COVID-19, we must address gender-specific issues that have been preventing women from having equal rights and opportunities. This is why we need to incorporate successful gender approaches in European stimulus and recovery packages. Gender equality and, more in general, inclusiveness are important transformation drivers for the renewal of our economies after the pandemic. If we succeed in unlocking women’s full economic and entrepreneurial potential, our recovery efforts will lead stronger and more resilient economies and societies.

Thirdly, we need to step up our international efforts. Women and girls are often the first victims during crises. This was no different for the COVID-19 pandemic. The severe health crisis has exposed the vulnerable position of girls and women in many parts of the world, especially in fragile and conflict-affected states. It is important that the new US administration is back at the table to fight, together with us, for the rights of girls and women around the world. As global development leader, Europe has a special responsibility. We must make every possible effort to make sure its humanitarian and development response to the COVID-19 pandemic includes strengthening access to education and healthcare for girls and women, including promoting SRHR, and supporting girls and women in their journey to economic independence.

One op-ed on International Women’s Day will not suffice to get there. It will require a much more sustained effort, for many years to come. Let us seize this moment to build more inclusive and caring societies where equal rights are paramount, not only on paper but also in everyday life. It will not only empower women, but also men. Since equal rights will be a step forward for both, allowing men as well to break out of traditional roles and stereotypes.

It will not be easy. But it is possible.

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MEP Vasile Blaga: Tourism recovery must be a major component of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan in all EU countries

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MEP Vasile Blaga (PNL, EPP) reiterates the importance of recovering the tourism sector with the help of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan.

„I believe that the relaunch of tourism is key to overcoming the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is no less important to outline a common strategy for the whole of the European Union on tourism by establishing uniform criteria for travel safety and limiting restrictive measures as much as possible. Quarantine, considered to be the last resort for the spread of COVID 19″, said the EPP MEP.

The resolution on an EU strategy for sustainable tourism, adopted by 577 votes to 31, and 80 abstentions on Thursday, notes that the COVID-19 outbreak has paralyzed the EU’s tourism sector, with 6 out of 27 million jobs at risk. MEPs highlight that the tourism and travel sectors account for around 10% of the EU’s GDP. They, therefore, urge EU countries to include them in their recovery plans and to consider temporarily reducing VAT on these services.

„Safe and clean” tourism

Due to the pandemic, travelers want “safe, clean and more sustainable tourism”, Parliament says, calling on member states to fully implement common criteria for safe travel without delay. These should include an EU Health and Safety protocol for testing before departure, and establish that quarantine requirement should be applied only as a last resort.

A common vaccination certificate should facilitate travel and act as an alternative to PCR tests and quarantine requirements, MEPs say. A new certificate should follow privacy and data protection rules and could start being used once there is sufficient evidence that those who have been vaccinated do not transmit the virus.

The resolution also urges the Commission to introduce an EU hygiene certification seal, which could certify minimum COVID-19 virus prevention and control standards and could help restore consumer trust in the tourism and travel sectors.

Beyond the pandemic

MEPs welcome the ‘Re-open EU’ portal and urge EU countries to send clear information to the Commission when they apply or lift restrictions on free movement.

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MEP Mircea Hava supports decentralized management of the EU funds to better fight against climate change

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© European Union 2019 - Source : EP

MEP Mircea Hava (PNL, EPP) supports decentralized management of the EU funds and of environmental projects in an EP report on cohesion policy and regional environment strategies in the fight against climate change.

”Today, I had the opportunity to reinforce the importance of my amendments and those of my colleagues from the EPP in the report of Mr Tonino Picula, from Croatia, representing the S&D Group. The document highlights the role of cohesion policy and regional environmental strategies in the fight against climate change. (…) By more than 20 amendments that represent my contribution to this report, I have equated the success of this bet of humanity with the obligation that the management of environmental projects and funds to be radically decentralized, to be administered fairly by those who know what they are facing. I am referring to local and environmental authorities. It’s a way of working in which we don’t have to be guided by what is seen from the plane, but by the problems that everyone knows and experiences. Because this is where strategies are built and real investments are made”, said Mircea Hava.

MEP Mircea Hava called on the European Commission to monitor and publish reports using a common standard for all Member States about the progress of national governments and local and regional authorities in addressing climate change at all levels, as well as to assess the interlinkages between environmental policies and the economy.

Mircea Hava also argued that the structure of Cohesion Policy must be linked with other policies aimed at fighting against climate change in order to achieve the climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest.

”Disasters and climate phenomena in recent years have a common trigger: all of us! We are the ones who are responsible for this damage and the only ones who can fix it. We need to implement environmental projects, like a bandage, over every wound produced by pollution. In a reality with only one alternative, we are obliged to act locally and save ourselves globally. For Europe to succeed in becoming an example in climate protection, it needs rigor, methods, tools at all levels, in all Member States” concluded MEP Mircea Hava.

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Op-ed | Antonio Lopez-Isturiz White, Olgierd Geblewicz, Emil Boc: A European recovery with villages, cities and regions at its core

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© EPP - CoR

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Antonio López-Istúriz White, EPP Secretary General

Olgierd Geblewicz, President of EPP-CoR Group and President of Westpomerania Region

Emil Boc, Mayor of Cluj Napoca, President of the Romanian Association of Municipalities, member of EPP-CoR Group

Europe has its roots in each village, city and region across our continent. They are our beating hearts, bringing Europe close to each one of us. They translate Europe into our daily lives. Local and regional authorities are responsible for the implementation of 70% of EU legislation. They represent half of all public employment, a third of public spending and two thirds of public investment. As Europe has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, mayors, regional and local representatives were on the frontline and were the first expression of European solidarity. 

The pandemic is putting at risk health and social welfare systems, our single market and the way Europe moves from strategy to implementation of the green and digital transitions. In moments of crisis, we turn to the most trusted level of governance and closest one to the people: they can solve local problems with European solutions. 

Our health is also in the hands of local and regional authorities. In 17 out of 27 Member States, regional authorities have health care competences. EPP-led villages, cities and regions have been at the forefront responding to the pandemic, taking measures to mitigate the various impacts of the pandemic.  

Take the Regional Government of Piemonte in Italy which opened a hospital to assist patients who have overcome the critical phase of COVID-19 but need further care or the German state of Hessen which provided funding schemes for companies and the self-employed to save jobs. The Region of Murcia in Spain is another example. It launched teleEduca, a platform to help students with their studies. Municipalities of towns and villages have been involved in different social measures. The Slovak municipality of Prešov invested in an electric vehicle to deliver food and medicine to the elderly. The City of Espoo prepared a 25-point package of measures to support companies as well as sports and cultural sectors. These are just some of the measures taken by EPP-led local and regional authorities across Europe to address the challenges arising from the pandemic.  

Cluj reached out to its local ecosystem and with the help of digital tools offered support programs to the community such as “Digital Seniors” – for grandparents at risk of loneliness during the period of isolation. “One Cluj” was also a collective movement initiated by the creative community that everyone joined in order to streamline the efforts and resources of volunteering and donations in the first days of lockdown.

The EPP local and regional representatives are the bridge between each corner of Europe and Brussels. We worked together to find the appropriate and proportionate solutions and identify needs and resources to cope with the crisis and provide a fast and effective recovery.  

Looking to the Recovery Plan and the next Multi-annual Financial Framework, the policies must be implemented at the level closest to citizens for greater efficiency, efficacy and accountability. As one clear example, the EPP Group in the Committee of the Regions has been also calling for direct funding to complete pan-European projects on the ground through which concrete results, such as the shift to clean public transport, can be achieved. 

Now is not time for business as usual. Instead, let’s now bounce forward together.

Let us build on our respective strengths, use them to our advantage in tackling asymmetric challenges that know no border between the European, national, regional and local levels.

In this context, the EPP and the EPP Group in the European Committee of the Regions (EPP-CoR Group) will organise a major online event on Tuesday, 23 March 2021 devoted to Recovery in the post-pandemic age at local and regional level. 

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