Crises bring to light strengths that were taken for granted, and weaknesses that were ignored. Countries have not invested enough for infrastructure, held back by concerns about debt; political battles over key projects and regulatory procedures only add to costs and incur delays. During the crisis we see how invaluable infrastructure is, and what the risks of under-supply are. In an urban world, everything is connected – transport, preventive health and hospitals, housing development, water and power, air quality, education. The essential tasks are to renew the stock of public goods, restructure urban regions, and reduce future economic and environmental costs. This agenda, which embraces health and climate change, must be rolled out knowing that we cannot anticipate the frequency nor the severity of future cross-border risks.

Where does this leave Europe in a world of regional blocks? The Single Market has created the second-largest economy in the world, larger than what the 27 economies of the member states would be without it. Labor mobility, one of the four freedoms of the Single Market, is critical to the vitality of Europe’s cities which compose the world’s largest, densest and oldest urban system. Reopening borders is just the first step, a delicate one at that. By protecting and strengthening the Single Market, including the development of strategic industries and technologies, Europe can demonstrate that cooperation among democracies works better at making societies safer.

This study was written by Josef Konvitz, who retired from the OECD in 2011 as Head of the Regulatory Policy Division. He joined the OECD’s Urban Affairs Division in 1992, and led it from 1995 to 2003. Trained as an historian, Konvitz was on the faculty of Michigan State University from 1973 to 1992. He is the author of Cities and Crisis (Manchester University Press, 2016) which draws on decades of academic study of and professional engagement in managing crises. He is also an Honorary Professor at the University of Glasgow and Chair of PASCAL International Observatory.