Michel: Quality of life must be at the heart of our ambition

The climate and digital transitions are a positive, unifying, extraordinary project

Photo: EU Charles Michel.

Delivering a speech on Sunday at the Aix-en-Provence Economic Forum, which is among the major economic events in France, Charles Michel President of the European Council started with the exceptional nature of this Covid-19 crisis. 

He said that it is “a simple yet astonishing fact: leaders throughout the world – regardless of their political orientations – have implemented extraordinary measures restricting freedoms, and economies have virtually ground to a halt”.

“And for what reason? To protect people’s lives and health. And as a former prime minister confronted with terrorist attacks, I can assure you that a decision to set aside or suspend fundamental personal freedoms is undoubtedly one of the most serious it is possible to take.”

Talking about climate transition, transformation and convergence and Europe’s path towards robust resilience, President Michel made the audience acquainted with the measures that the EU had already undertaken in response to the pandemic crisis.

Resilience is in fact at the heart of the ongoing negotiations on the EU’s multiannual budget and the exceptional recovery fund financed by Union borrowing, the EUCO President said. He explained that the focus of the debate has gradually shifted from the issue of borrowing and the balance of grants and loans, to the issue of where these amounts will go and how they will be spent.

“There is, in my view, one other fundamental lesson to be drawn from this extraordinary crisis. While the financial crisis pushed us to put consolidating fragile public finances at the top of our agenda, this crisis has brought home what’s most important: personal and collective well-being, embodied by a compassionate and caring society which, I believe, should be Europe’s new horizon.”

Perhaps it is time we agreed on new measures that are better able to reflect a society’s performance in terms of prosperity and well-being, he pointed out, noting that this reopens a debate on the nature of growth and the fact that it can’t be reduced to value creation.

The discussion launched in the context of the OECD by Joseph Stiglitz, Jean-Paul Fitoussi and Martine Durand with their report "Beyond GDP" is a source of inspiration for me, he underlined.

Michel also stressed that the climate and digital transitions are a positive, unifying, extraordinary project, but “we will not win citizens’ support by using this growth indicator, which does not reflect the progress people feel in their daily lives, as the only measure”. Quality of the environment and of education, access to healthcare, equal opportunities – in short, quality of life – must, now more than ever, be at the heart of our ambition.

Going beyond GDP – this is an issue, perhaps even an existential challenge, for the future of our liberal democracies, Charles Michel highlighted. He expressed hope that the forthcoming conference on the future of Europe must be the democratic opportunity to conduct this debate with full transparency, with vigour and with passion. “A debate that starts out about economics, but that in the end is much broader, and that propels us towards a common future,” he opined.

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