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Coming together and building a better EU future: The role of civil society in the response to COVID-19

By Raia Mihaylova, ECAS Communications and Outreach Coordinator; Carlotta Besozzi, Civil Society Europe

This article was originally published on Nonprofit, a news portal on the third sector and volunteering 

Think back to last December. There was something else in the air then – a shared feeling that 2020 will bring positive change in Europe, that it will be the year when the build-up of citizen movements results in much-needed systemic reform. We now know it as the year of the COVID-19 epidemic, but ironically, with all its tragedy the crisis has become an “advocate” for those same demands for change.

To meet them, the response to COVID-19 should be one of recovery AND reconstruction. On the one hand, we need to actively safeguard the European Union’s fundamental rights and freedoms impacted by the initial health-safety measures put in place. While certain restrictions were necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus, some governments implemented ‘emergency policies’ that limited citizens’ ability to hold them accountable.

On the other hand, while addressing the economical consequences, we need to reform the political, health, and social systems. The crisis clearly highlighted structured inequalities in the way these systems are organised and the need not just for their “reboot”, but for a complete debug.

For the above to be approached effectively, the “we” referred to in both cases above must include all stakeholders – from the European institutions and Member States to businesses, academia, and civil society, as the bridge between institutions and citizens. The role of the latter has become even more prominent throughout the crisis, with organisations being quick to mobilise themselves and react to citizens’ needs as they evolved. The examples are many, such as Your Europe Advice, a free legal advice online service run by the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) on behalf of the European Commission. As EU citizens faced new challenges to their freedom of movement rights, ECAS’ legal experts were able to provide them with specific information on how to cope with the difficulties. Areas of concern include cross-border health care, consumer and passenger rights, social benefits, residential issues, and other related rights.

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