A virus is haunting Europe. And it could strike again. This year’s 20th anniversary issue of our flagship publication Benchmarking Working Europe brings to a growing audience of trade unionists, industrial relations specialists and policymakers a simple warning: beside SARS-CoV-2, the virus that has caused the Covid-19 pandemic and thrown Europe’s economies into a sudden and profound recession, ‘austerity’ is the other nefarious agent from which workers, and Europe as a whole, need to be protected in the challenging months and years ahead. At this point in time, a new wave of austerity could not only undermine the post-Covid recovery, but it could also fundamentally undermine the European social and economic integration project.
It is essential to note from the outset that there are enough signs to justify some cautious optimism about the future trajectory of the present crisis. Just as the scientific community appears to be on the verge of producing one or more effective and affordable vaccines that could generate widespread immunity against SARS-CoV-2, it is also clear that policymakers, at both national and European levels, are now approaching this challenging juncture in a way that departs from the austerity-driven responses deployed a decade ago, in the aftermath of the previous crisis (Sabato and Mandelli 2021). It is particularly apt for the 20th anniversary issue of Benchmarking, a publication that has allowed the ETUI and the ETUC to contribute to key European debates (Daly et al. 2020) on the basis of fact-based analysis, to set out our case for a socially responsive and ecologically sustainable road out of the Covid-19 crisis. In doing so, we will explore some of the key (mis)steps in the way Europe responded to the previous crisis so as to further emphasise the paradigm change that the response to the current crisis necessitates.