The call for renewing the social contract that stands behind European democracies used to be a discussion for the few rather than for the public debate. And still, the majority of Europeans probably ignore the expression. But as a matter of fact, since 2016 and the surge of populism, going hand in hand with the despicable and intrusive use of technology to hamper the democratic electoral process as well as for manipulating the public opinion, and most importantly the rise of inequalities have been a cry for a new social contract. We may call it differently, we may say that deliberative democracy is undergoing a crisis, that trust in the democratic institutions have never been this low since the end of WWII..but all these arguments build in favour of a new social contract.
What does this have to do with the pandemic and the recovery that is being planned by the EU and its Member States? Quite a lot. Because the pandemic has made very tangible the global dimension of our citizenship. Although the latter is still defined by the nation-state, the halt of Schengen has made slightly more tangible its European dimension. What has real meaning for the European level of citizenship, though, is the Next Generation EU plan that the Commission has launched. Taking common responsibility – by increasing and generating anew own resources for the EU and their subsequent management – for the well-being of Europeans is the extra mile that the EU has finally decided to walk.
Nonetheless, citizenship is defined by rights and duties, and health – at least in Europea societies – is an essential piece of those rights. The pandemic reminded us what it means for a State to protect its citizens. And for the world too: while the threat was global, good global coordination can provide the solution too. Witnessing the threat at home, we were also observing the global dimension of the outbreak fo COVID-19. In its causes, tightly tied to deforestations and thus to capitalism and productivism and the devastating practices for the environment that it stems. In its development, unmistakably linked to globalised communications and markets (and contagion). In its consequences, because from lifting travel bans to allowing social contacts, solutions are effective only if well-coordinated at the international level.
The recovery cannot be a recovery back to the pre-COVID-19 situation. Because otherwise, the inequality gaps that the economic impact of the pandemic has widened will tear society apart. This time, with more far-reaching consequences than ever. Although who writes is anything but a conspiracy fan, it is undeniable that inequalities are pushing more and more people to the brink of desperation and, as we are witnessing in the US, desperation can only lead to unrest.
Therefore, the recovery must be a rebuilding process as well. It should be led by the aspiration to eradicate inequalities, it should be driven by grounded solidarity and it should consist of a co-creation process. In so doing, we will not support our communities from an economic point of view only, but we will also save democracy by rejuvenating it.
Building more inclusive societies cannot consist of providing more unemployment benefits nor sharing the burden of public debt only. For as significant as these steps are, they have a short-term effect. Once that will have faded-away, there will still be a few citizens with more rights than others. Rebuilding our economy must then consist of rebuilding our social contract by supporting communities at the heart of European social fabric. It must mean liberating as many people as possible from the constraints of inequalities of all kind. Either we aim at ending inequalities and co-creating the way foreword or the solution will be illusionary and temporary.