Celebrating the first of May in the age of the coronavirus pandemic, means, even more than in the past, to celebrate labor and its dignity as a cornerstone of the human person and of its relationship with society. Among the consequences of Covid-19, in fact, we will be required to face an unprecedented economic crisis, the loss of many jobs and an inevitable growth of poverty and social tensions. The volatility and uncertainty on the contagion’s development compels reflection regarding the future and the scenarios for the post-Covid world. A number of recurring “mantras” dominate the national and international debate: some are correct, others are inaccurate, while others are little more than rhetoric. But let’s go in order.
We are at war. War rhetoric can be useful to mobilize public opinion and the sense of discipline of citizens. But we are not at war. If anything, we’ve entered a low intensity conflict against an invisible and difficult to decipher enemy, with an extremely high degree of mobility. The difference is substantial. This type of conflict requires firstly determination and resilience and, above all, the ability to ”gain the hearts and minds” of citizens.
Nothing will be as it was before. This is true. The post-Corona world will be different. We will likely witness an acceleration of the trends that emerged during the last decade: a decline in the role of the United Nations and of other global governance forums, starting from the World Trade Organization; an asymmetric US-China bipolarism with a rebalancing in favor of Beijing; a challenge to the EU’s institutional architecture; and a growing trend towards populism and sovereignism. This scenario is not inevitable. Alternatives exist, but they require renewed global leadership skills.
My country first. It is the simplest answer, which nonetheless showed all its limitations already during the emergency phase with the “scramble for masks” in which we all participated. The national sovereignism of “Italians first” plays the game of emotions with a marked deck of cards. But sovereignist recipes, from neo-mercantilism to the closure of markets, from autarchy to indiscriminate re-nationalizations, lead to economic disaster, to the aggravation of inequalities, to minimal influence in the negotiations for the redefinition of the international cooperative system. The revival of employment and growth in Italy goes hand in hand not only with Europe, but also with our ability to look at the development of the areas of the world that are of utmost importance for us. Coronavirus has highlighted all the limitations of indiscriminate delocalization and unlimited extension of value chains. The answer is not autarchy, but the rethinking of value chains within macro-areas, where the competitive advantage is determined by the proximity of markets, rather than by production costs, and by reliability during situations of crisis. In this context, the challenge for Italy is to focus on the broader Mediterranean region as a hub of production and logistics and as a gateway between Africa and Europe. But Africa and the Mediterranean region also concern us directly as far as the next wave of the virus is concerned. The number of people infected by Covid-19, although underestimated in many countries, is already impressive. Historically, the Italian health system has always been the crown jewel of our development cooperation. Once the emergency is over, a new phase will open during which we will have to be the ones to demonstrate, in our own best interest, that we have a clear understanding of the meaning of solidarity towards the people nearer to us.
Business as usual. Neither should we believe the siren calls of those who hope for or who foresee a quick return to normal. Unregulated globalization cannot and must not be considered the norm. It has provoked, in some cases, an exponential growth of inequalities within States, and has weakened their economic and social fabric. We need only think, for instance, of the situation of the African-American community in the USA, of the situation of “informal” workers all over the world, of the “status” of regular and irregular migrants, of the increase in violence against women. The virus simply proved to be the catalyst of a social unrest that was much more extensive than many observers had reported. A lot will have to change. Social distancing is the antithesis of interdependence and connectivity which underlie globalization. The rules that we have self-imposed in recent months show that all phenomena, even the most complex, can be managed. And that it is essential to work together with other major players in the international community to rewrite the agenda and rules for a more equitable and sustainable globalization. In this context, health becomes a global “public common good”, and the right to health is an inalienable right of all the planet’s inhabitants, which must be translated into stronger and more efficient health systems.
Europe has abandoned us. After the initial uncertainties, the European Union has developed an unprecedented package of measures to support and relaunch the economy. The figures involved are extraordinary, incomparable with respect to the American New Deal, the Marshall Plan, and the post 2008 measures. And in this, we cannot but proudly claim the origin of some proposals, like the one that lead to the creation of Sure, the mechanism of support to employment, which echoes the spirit of the Padoan proposal for the establishment of a European unemployment scheme, presented in 2015 by the Italian Government. Much remains to be done, particularly on the conditions of access and on the nature of the funds foreseen by the “Recovery Fund”. But despite the differences in vision of its 27 member states, the European Union is showing that it has understood what is at stake. And that the key game will be played on the economy, through the creation of a new European architecture that will strengthen social safety nets, ensure the financial effort necessary to relaunch growth under fair conditions, affect the real economy and the system’s overall competitiveness. In this way, the issue of coordinating fiscal policies has clearly entered the agenda and can no longer be postponed. The post-Covid world will be a new, more complex, world. Will it be even more fragile and unequal than before or will we be able to make it stronger and more resilient, precisely because it will be less unequal? Pope Francis removed the veil from our illusions by reminding us that we cannot stay healthy in a sick world. Foreign policy - Italian, European and Atlantic - will also have to take this warning into account.