The Brief, powered by IndustriAll Europe – Fight one virus with another

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Coronavirus could change society on a permanent basis, for good or bad. But the deadly pathogen’s disrupting effect might help rid us of a number of other chronic ailments that have plagued us for too long.

EURACTIV

Coronavirus could change society on a permanent basis, for good or bad. But the deadly pathogen’s disrupting effect might help rid us of a number of chronic ailments that have plagued us for too long.

“If coronavirus and 9/11 are the two biggest events of our life, what is the third?” one Twitter user asks, setting off a huge discussion about what should complete the trinity. Such is the impact the virus outbreak has already made on our collective consciousness.

The changes in behaviour and rule-making prompted by the pandemic have the potential to be the most transformative episodes in living memory since the Second World War or the invention of the atomic bomb, by changing how we get around and power our world.

Study after study shows that air pollution – largely generated by road traffic – ruins our health and, more specifically, makes us more susceptible to the fatal effects of the virus. Satellite data also shows that those dirty air levels have plummeted due to lockdown measures.

If there were ever a time to deploy Occam’s Razor to policy-making, this is it. Cars and trucks spew out toxic fumes that damage our health and hastens climate change, yet clean alternatives are out there, underdeveloped and underappreciated. 

Virus-induced changes are already happening: European cities like Milan and Vilnius are dedicating vast swatches of their historic centres purely to pedestrians, while Brussels has rolled out 40km of cycle path and made people – not vehicles – king of its roads.

The EU will publish a comprehensive sustainable mobility plan at the end of the year and, at the moment at least, it seems unthinkable that it won’t look to tap into growing public support for bikes, trains and other forms of public transport.

Coronavirus could also radically accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy too, less because of health reasons and more because investors are now looking for a safe bet during a period of almost unprecedented uncertainty.

The staggering drop-off in oil price this month exposed the fragility of current energy markets and as we tiptoe towards a decade of economic fallout caused by the outbreak, is that a risk that financial players want to continue fuelling?

The big weakness of wind farms and solar power – low yields on investment – now pales in comparison to one of their biggest strengths: their low risk. As institutions like the European Central Bank think about buying things like green bonds, demand will only increase.

Still, coronavirus is not guaranteed to push us into building a cleaner, better world. Airbus has scrapped an electric-hybrid plane project, while China appears to be returning to polluting business as usual.

But if governments are shrewd enough to cash in their new-found popularity ratings – again thanks to the virus – by firmly coupling the pandemic-recovery period to a cranked-up sustainability drive, they could reap some huge benefits.


A message from IndustriAll Europe: Over the past seven months, industriAll European Trade Union – representing 7 million workers in manufacturing, mining and energy sectors across Europe – ran the ‘Together at Work’ campaign showing the benefits of collective bargaining for all. Consensual solutions reached through collective bargaining are best for workers, the economy and society – in times of crisis and always.   


The Roundup

The French government’s plan to ease coronavirus lockdown measures relies on a strategy of testing and isolating patients to ensure the second wave of contamination is kept under control.

The EU’s delayed naval mission to enforce an arms embargo on Libya will be ready to begin work in the coming days, EU officials confirmed, two days after Libyan militia commander Khalifa Haftar , reducing the chances of a political solution to the conflict.

A top official has been poached by Facebook from the UK’s media watchdog, the Office of Communications (Ofcom). The move comes at a time in which the UK is readying broad legislation to crack down on offensive content online.

The European Commission launched a new formal procedure against reforms in Poland, giving Warsaw two months to alleviate concerns about a December law that the EU executive says threaten judicial independence.

The European Parliament’s agriculture committee has approved a negotiating mandate for upcoming talks with national ministers on a transitional period for EU farming subsidies. It pushes back Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform until 2023.

Twelve countries have asked the European Commission to suspend the law requiring airlines to offer passengers a full refund for cancelled flights, championing the idea of time-limited vouchers as an alternative.

The European Parliament is gearing up for tough talks on the EU’s climate target for 2030, with a 65% emissions cut now firmly on the table.

The German cabinet adopted today (29 April) an amendment to clean energy rules aimed at enabling immediate measures to be taken during the coronavirus pandemic. But environmentalists are not pleased as solar power caps and distance rules for wind turbines were left out.

Look out for…

EU’s chief diplomat Joseph Borrell appears in front of the European Parliament’s AFET committee for questions on the disinformation report affair.

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12:35 Defrosted kingfisher rejoins museum collection of dead animals
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12:35 'Explosive' growth in Amsterdam hotels despite stricter limits
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04:32 How polluted is the air where you live?
04:14 Poisonous caterpillar to strike earlier than usual this year
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