On 25 November 2020, together with Eurocities, CEEP organized a joint city dialogue to discuss the provision of Services of General Interests (SGIs) and their contribution to the recovery in the aftermath of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Anna Lisa Boni and Valeria Ronzitti, General Secretaries of Eurocities and CEEP, opened the event underlining the special role of SGIs, employing over 60 million workers in a broad range of sectors, and contributing approximately to 26% of the EU’s GDP. They also highlighted that the pandemic clearly spelled out the inadequacy of essential SGIs, especially in the context of austerity policy and spending cuts witnessed in the past decade.
Renate Brauner, Commissioner of the City of Vienna for Services of General Interest and Municipal Economy, presented the study “Remunicipalisation in Europe”. The study stresses examples of the remunicipalisation of services within the European Union. Mrs Brauner emphasised that public capital alone plays an important role in the economy, that the role of the public sector is often under-differentiated, and that the positive contribution of SGIs remains undermined. This focus falls short when it comes to equitable and affordable access of people to high-quality services of general interest. She also explained that the positive effects of public capital on economic growth and labour market development are too-little considered, with each Euro spent generating 80 cents of income. In this sense, she called for a new understanding, according to which infrastructure investments must no longer be understood as debt, but as investment in the future, since a strong public infrastructure and resilient SGIs are the backbone for our society.
Mirzha De Manuel, member of the Cabinet of Valdis Dombrovskis, European Commission Executive Vice-President responsible for an Economy that Works for People, presented the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), centrepiece of the Next Generation EU recovery instrument and should be running until 2026. It is estimated that an effective implementation of Next Generation EU can deliver 2% of additional GDP by 2024 and create 2 million jobs. Its main objectives are also to deliver the European Green Deal and build a more sustainable, resilient, and fairer Europe for the next generation.
In the light of the Next Generation EU recovery package and its implementation criteria, Eurocities and CEEP opened a panel discussion on the specific role of SGIs, cities and local authorities, in this process. Elisa Schenner, Head of EU Affairs at Wiener Stadtwerke, presented the situation of the energy sector on the example of Wiener Stadtwerke Group. As a multi-utility that includes energy and mobility, the Wiener Stadtwerke Group pursues sector integration in using “waste” in one sector as a resource in another. During the COVID-19 crisis, they continued to recruit people and provide services of general interest without interruption.
Maria Dolores Ortiz Sanchez, General Director Planification e Infrastructure of Movilidad en Ayuntamiento, and Alberto Alonso Poza, Financing and Strategy Director of EMT, gave an overview of the opportunities and challenges of the public transport sector in Madrid. EMT reacted immediately to the pandemic by guaranteeing the provision of SGIs, by increasing the capacities of the BiciMAD (bikesharing system) to cope with the increase in usage and helping the mobility within the city at a time of capacity limitations.
Virginie Toussain, Legal Officer at Union Sociale pour l’Habitat, presented the situation in the housing sector. She reported that the demand for social housing in France has increased significantly in the context of the pandemic. This means that in many places there is no longer sufficient social housing. In this sense, it is essential to increase investment in quality social housing in order to best mitigate the effects of the pandemic.
Finally, Tjitte Alkema, Vice-Secretary General of HOSPEEM, stressed the need for flexible and essential training for the health work force in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, some positive developments were discernible in the crisis such as the fact that procedures that used to be more time consuming had been made more efficient without impacting the quality of care or patient safety. Furthermore, more flexibility in procedures and processes were observed. Nevertheless, changes are needed: echoing Mrs Brauner, Mr Alkema called for a “golden rule of investment” for SGIs and warned of the danger of a renewed austerity policy after the crisis, which could end the current momentum of SGIs.