COVID-19 has had an unparalleled impact on the way in which we work, a survey by Eurofound – a European Union agency focused on research and information and based in Ireland – found that 43% of Irish people began telecommuting during the COVID-19 pandemic. At EM Ireland, our working environment has changed considerably since the beginning of the pandemic. Before the outbreak of COVID-19, in-person events and engagements were an integral part of our focus, from involvement with school groups to corporate groups, we have always had a face-to-face presence. Recently, that process of social engagement has had to change and be adapted. Fortunately, the emerging popularity of video-conferencing platforms, has aided us in the transition.
In this EMI Blog, we’ll take a look back at three webinars EM Ireland participated in during the pandemic. Firstly, we’ll look back to our conversation with European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly; secondly, a webinar we worked in partnership with the European Commission Representation in Ireland to deliver, with Director-General for Budget, Andreas Schwarz and lastly, our participation in GLOBSEC’s online webinar on Europe post-COVID-19. These three events shared a common thread, one which will be useful to remember as Europe emerges from the COVID-19 crisis namely, that of open communication and transparency.
In our “In Conversation with…” webinar, European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly covered a catalogue of issues that the Ombudsman is expected to address, from online harassment to freedom of information to the issue of “revolving door” recruitment. At the centre of each of these issues was the question of transparency. “Transparency”, O’Reilly argued, is at “the heart of this [COVID-19] crisis”. At a time of uncertainty, when people are concerned and when policy decisions of considerable importance are made, it is essential that the public are well informed. O’Reilly’s comments underscored the power of our democratic values and the vital importance of protecting them.
Although Mr. Schwarz’ presentation, “An EU Budget for Recovery”, was considerably technical, centring on the details of the 2021-2027 Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) and the pandemic recovery fund (Next Generation EU), it too outlined the essential element of communication. The process of passing the EU budget involves 27 Member States, the Council, the Commission and the Parliament – communication is paramount.
One element of the budget that continues to require patience and perseverance on the part of all Member States is the question of a loan versus a grant-based recovery. For certain Member States (particularly southern Member States), grants are considered essential for a robust, sustained economic recovery; for other Member States (the so called “frugal four”) grants are regarded as unnecessary and arguably unfair. Despite the careful consideration and planning that was required to redesign the MFF (which Mr. Schwarz discussed in great clarity), there remains the issue of communicating it and convincing Member States that it is the way forward for Europe.
The divisive nature of discussions on the budget and the potential for that division to transform into Euroscepticism is an issue which was covered in GLOBSEC’s “Europe in a post-COVID-19 world: Could flexible Europe work?”. Indeed, Euroscepticism was an emerging issue the before COVID-19 crisis and will continue as one as Europe recovers. What the GLOBSEC conference highlighted, was the central role that communication plays in addressing Euroscepticism. Divisions between Member States on issues as diverse as migration policy, economic policy and environmental policy require discussion.
A potential remedy to existent divisions – discussed at length in the GLOBSEC conference – could be found in a multi-speed framework, which would enable different parts of the EU to integrate (in terms of policy) at different speeds. Of course, multi-speed integration is itself a contentious concept and if it were to be extensively adopted, it would depend on a process of continuous communication and re-evaluation.
COVID-19 has changed the way in which we, at EM Ireland, communicate with the public and with other like-minded organisations – that change has and will continue no doubt, to herald new challenges. While we might not be able to meet in-person, for now, our new reality has brought about a renewed determination to express and exchange ideas.
You can now watch or listen back to all EM Ireland webinars and Just the Chats podcasts, including the events mentioned above, on the EMI Player.