Regeneration – EU: the ‘five potatoes’ principle


Published in SEP in European Parliament Former Members Association (EPFMA)

“We find ourselves at a crossroads, and we can either continue with our past behaviours, do things differently to ensure the welfare of all, or exclude part of society, maintain the welfare of a few and leave the rest behind.”

My grandmother taught me how to manage my resources based on what she had learned from her grandmother. If you have five potatoes left, you can eat three, keep one for the bad times ahead and one to plant the following year.

The EU has been living beyond its means in terms of both natural and human resources. The COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis it unleashed have hit the economy and society, including young people. Schools closed down, the world turned digital and our rural and less well-off communities have been ‘cut off the grid’. Isolation and loneliness fuel fear. It has become blatantly obvious: we have shirked our responsibility to save a potato for next year and keep one for the bad times ahead.

We find ourselves at a crossroads, and we can either continue with our past behaviours, do things differently to ensure the welfare of all, or exclude part of society, maintain the welfare of a few and leave the rest behind. Most of the EU Member States and the mainstream political parties are committed to opting for the second scenario, even if they often revert to option one, shrinking away from the opportunity to deliver the transition. Meanwhile, the populists advocate option three at the expense of European values.

The cost of failure is too high. We must not allow the dark shadows of the twentieth century to return. The multiannual financial framework (MFF) and NextGenerationEU (NGEU) can be the seeds of the regeneration of resources for our next generation.

Seeds. Nothing more, because even if NGEU will provide a surplus for a few years, the MFF still only represents 1% of EU GDP. Not to mention the year 2058, the year by which our children will pay off our debt, for our having consumed more than three of our potatoes over consecutive decades. All this in the era of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), where the next ‘bad times’ are just round the corner, whether in the form of a deadly pandemic, a financial crisis, migration as a result of extreme weather or the flooding of coastal areas. The MFF and NGEU are our potatoes for the bad times ahead and for planting next year.

As to whether planting the potato is worthwhile is not something that is judged by today’s voters alone. It is up to their children and their grandchildren who have not yet been born to decide.

The MFF-NGEU is a New Deal to replace the short-termism of electoral cycles of four to five years. It is up to the current generation’s leaders who are borrowing from the resources available to future generations to take the plunge and reverse the trends. Our compass over the next few decades must be to deliver on our promise and to use the resources generated to regenerate opportunities through changing our behaviour for the benefit of the planet and the climate; through building up reserves to ensure that our economies are resilient and that cooperation with partners is not merely dependency driven, but a choice we make; through investing and adapting to the changing economic reality; and through preparing our labour
force to safeguard the European welfare model for the future. It is a commitment to guaranteeing the fundamental values of the EU in the long term.

The twin transition requires a great deal of capital-intensive investment in new technologies, but we also need to attend to our human reserves. Otherwise, we will grow our plantation but only a selected few will enjoy its fruits.

The social, spatial and stakeholder divides in the labour market are growing. What we need in order to motivate citizens and get them on board is mass reskilling to tackle the twin transitions coupled with organisational safeguards. The Porto Social Commitment is the way to enhance our gold reserve: our peoples.

As other regions and countries are facing and tackling the same challenges, actually delivering on our commitments rather than setting ambitious sounding targets will give us a distinctive competitive advantage. This requires safeguards, checks and balances so that our plans bear fruit instead of being consumed ahead of time. Rule of law conditionality with Parliament’s scrutiny and institutional oversight can provide the (eco-friendly) fertiliser for our potatoes, planted in the soil of our knowledge base, cultivated by our competitive talent pool and leadership, blossoming under the sun of European values and consensus-building, and harvested by our citizens.

Edit Herczog

S&D, Hungary (2004-2014)

NOTE: Edit Herczog is Chair of the Advisory Board of