UNited for a fairer and more sustainable recovery

Imagine playing a football match with half of the team seated on the bench. Or […]


Imagine playing a football match with half of the team seated on the bench. Or rowing a boat with only one oar. Or playing a game of chess without the full complement of rooks and knights. The results of all three of these scenarios would be sub-optimal. Now imagine trying to recover from one of the greatest global disruptions seen in more than a century and going at it alone. 

If we are to reset the world economy, we need to do it together. We need to rebuild, recommit and reaffirm that multilateral approaches to global crises as the only route to a sustainable and inclusive recovery for all. The pandemic has lay bare our interdependence and has provided in stark terms examples of how a national action can have a global reaction.

Whether it be coordinating global health and sanitary regulations, travel requirements or vaccine distribution, in these past two years we have seen where going at it alone has led to inequity, unfairness and ineffectiveness. There is no substitute for a shared multilateral approach to a shared global problem.

And it is not just through the lens of the pandemic that acting multilaterally matters. With the impending climate disaster on the horizon what is required is something greater than simply the sum of national solutions. 

As we move into a new year where the pandemic is still decimating health systems, entrepreneurship and lives, it’s time to place multilateralism back on the top of the agenda. 

First, recommit to multilateralism as a route to shared prosperity. We know the concerns: it’s too slow, it’s too complex; it only results in the least common denominator. However, no national intervention can replicate the legitimacy, shared responsibility and impact of an agreement reached by big and small, least developed countries and G7 states, small islands and nuclear powers.

An approach that views our multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and its agencies, and the World Trade Organization as global common goods that need protecting and preserving for future generations, is necessary. But it is also important that these multilateral institutions adapt to a changing world, that they reform to remain fit for purpose. States, who are the main stakeholders in these institutions, must drive the change rather than defend the status quo. Not advancing is in reality moving backwards.

Second, we need to invest in resilience for all. Not just ensuring that only half of the football team is able to access food, shelter and safety but that we rebuild the fundamentals of modern and mature societies which should be about providing opportunities for prosperity across the board. This will require greater investment in institutions and ecosystems and a relook at how trade can play a particular role in this reconfiguration for resilience. 

Trade is a route to greater diversification of production and hence to more opportunities for citizens. But this is not immediate and automatic. It is also not without pain. Trade rules help to provide transparency and regulatory consistency, while the WTO helps to stymy the threat of protectionism through its monitoring and soft pressure. And this is important because by now we know that trade protectionism doesn’t protect jobs. In short, trade rules make trade possible, but we need to ensure that trade happens, and more importantly, that trade works for all. This is why multilateral efforts need to be combined with strong policies at home to manage the transition. Initiatives such as Aid for Trade and the enhanced integrated framework – two platforms for trade-related assistance under the WTO roof – place a spotlight on the needs of poorer countries for this kind of support, while helping to showcase why investing in trade can lead to scalable and impactful results. 

Resilience must also mean climate crisis adaptation, advocacy and action. A truly inclusive multilateral approach is the only way forward. The impact of climate change will not hit all countries and populations at the same time and in the same way, but the uncomfortable truth is that it will eventually hit us all. That is no longer open to debate. Already we are seeing a growing trend across the world of climate change refugees. States, cities, citizens, businesses, investors, financiers, must all be part of this new inclusive multilateralism if we are to address our common threats. 

And third, attention needs to be paid to the social fabric of our societies. The pandemic unearthed the dark underbelly of the gig economy, of underemployment, and of the general vulnerability of a vast majority of our populations. It made us rediscover the greatest danger to our common progress: inequalities. We can no longer ignore the number of families that live on the precipice of poverty. The state, the business community and civil society must explore a true tripartite partnership to ensure social safety nets, retraining and skills upgrade and protection of the most vulnerable. But this must not be delinked from international cooperation where elements such as fair taxation, decent work, access to finance, and gender equity are governed. Only by ensuring synergies with domestic actions and global initiatives will transformational impact be achieved. 

One cannot delink the global recovery from multilateral cooperation. History has shown how in our most fragile times we have risen through a shared determination and willingness to do better and to be better. The reaction to the pandemic has confirmed we need to recommit to this principle and to multilateralism as the fairest and most effective way to do this.

*This article is drawn from Arancha González Laya‘s recent intervention at the event UNited for a People-Powered Recovery, organised by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS).

Photo credits: red feniks/Shutterstock.

Find all related publications

SDGs for all: Strategic scenarios

Earth4All system dynamics modelling of SDG progress

Lula’s new government

Prospects for Brazilian foreign policy and relations with the EU

Towards a renewables scale-up that works for nature

Recovery Watch series

The Sahel region: A litmus test for EU-Africa relations in a changing global order

'12 years of crises in the Sahel' series
Find all related events

Silver Rose Awards 2023

Award ceremony and reception
Geneva, Switzerland (Expert meeting)

For a New Global Deal

The current global order is under a larger-scale transformation: existential challenges emerging for all humankind, […]

The Sahel region

The EU and a changing global order
Find all related news

FEPS President at the SDG Summit and United Nations General Assembly in New York

FEPS President Maria João Rodrigues is in New York this week on the occasion of […]

Call for tender – Research and analysis for the project “Progressive paths to rebuild Ukraine”

Basic Information Project Research “In search of a ‘lost generation’. Harnessing youth potential for post-war […]

President Lula da Silva meets with FEPS and Plataforma CIPÓ

The Brazilian President was present in Brussels in the context of the EU-CELAC Summit

A new social contract for the well-being of people and the planet

Call to action on Just Transition
Find all related in the media
In the media

‘SDG funding gap swells to $137trn’ New Policy Study from FEPS, together with Earth4All, to deliver a five-point plan for the SDGs.

by Edie 19/09/2023
The “SDGs for All” report emphasises that policymakers have the potential to significantly advance SDG implementation by the original 2030 deadline and beyond by enacting five “extraordinary turnarounds” that break away from current trends.

Un nuevo informe de prospectiva identifica las medidas políticas urgentes necesarias para volver a encarrilar los ODS

by Cope 14/09/2023
'New foresight report identifies urgent policy measures needed to get the SDGs back on track' Cope's article on the policy study 'SDGs for all: Strategic scenarios', published in collaboration with Earth4All

Just Transition: A new social contract for wellbeing of people and planet

by Euractiv 11/07/2023
Euractiv's article ahead of the high-level expert meeting on Just Transition in Valladolid, organized by FEPS, Solidar, and other think tanks and civil society organizations.

Ukrainian economy and society: whither the (postwar) country?

by Commons 16/06/2023
In Commons' article, Yuliya Yurchenko, co-author of FEPS’ book 'Europe and the war in Ukraine', outlines the consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine for the Ukrainian population and the plans needed for Ukraine's recovery.