27 Mar EU Measures Against Coronavirus – Not Enough
The European Union has introduced several measures against the fight of the coronavirus pandemic, although these actions are perceived as shortcomings.
European Central Bank (ECB)
This was clearly evident on Thursday, 26th March 2020, when the EU leaders failed to reach an agreement over the coronavirus debt burden, in particularly on much of this extra debt burden should ultimately be carried by national governments, the central bank or by the EU acting collectively (https://www.ft.com/content/21314370-fc97-4606-a47b-6dff6b29c9cc).
The above is related to the European Central Bank proceeding with emergency bond purchases to put EUR 750 billion into circulation.
In addition to the above, the ECB decided on Thursday, 12th March 2020, that it will add an extra EUR 120 billion to its asset-buying programme, this year, on top of the present EUR 20 billion per month (https://www.euractiv.com/section/economy-jobs/news/ecb-approves-more-money-seeks-strong-fiscal-stimulus-versus-coronavirus/).
On parallel lines, after the testy debate over “coronabonds” – raising funds through issuing shared European debt – the bloc kicked a decision down the road, by calling on EU finance leaders to present proposals within two weeks. This signifies more of a divided union than a united front.
Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative
Furthermore, another economic measure that was introduced by the European Commission and approved by the European Parliament on Thursday, 26th March, is the EUR 37 billion Initiative – Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative – in order to mobilise cohesion policy to flexibly respond to the rapidly emerging needs in the most exposed sectors, such as healthcare, SMEs and labour markets, and help the most affected territories in Member States and their citizens (https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/newsroom/coronavirus-response/).
In order to make money available for fighting the crisis, the Commission proposed to mobilise quickly cash reserves from the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) – the EU’s cohesion money. This will provide immediate liquidity to Member States’ budgets.
Widening the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund
Similarly, the EU Parliament the EU Parliament approved the instrument to widen the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund by up to EUR 800 million so that EU countries can draw from it in case of a public health emergency like the COVID-19 outbreak (https://www.euractiv.com/section/coronavirus/news/eu-parliament-votes-financial-assistance-for-countries-affected-by-covid-19/).
A somewhat decisive move was the fact that EU Parliament put an end to the problematic aviation rules on ice until October, as airlines struggled to cope with the impact of the coronavirus on their business (https://www.euractiv.com/section/aviation/news/meps-agree-to-ground-coronavirus-ghost-flights/).
The above is in light of the fact that EU law obliges carriers to make use of at least 80% of their allotted take-off and landing slots within a calendar year or risk losing lucrative berths at airports for the next 12 months, in what is known as ‘use it or lose it’ rules. Despite the coronavirus outbreak slashing air travel demand – thanks to a mixture of travel bans and social-distancing measures – airlines have continued to put empty ‘ghost flights’ in the sky as a result.
Supply of Personal Protective Equipment
Moreover, the European Commission announced on the 24th March, that it launched the joint procurement of personal protective equipment (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_523).
Producers made offers covering and in some cases even exceeding the quantities requested by the Member States that take part in the procurement, for every single item requested. The joint procurement covers masks type 2 and 3, gloves, goggles, face-shields, surgical masks and overalls. This provides reassurance that hospitals, healthcare professionals, care homes and people that need it will have the necessary equipment to protect them from the virus and to limit its spread.
The equipment should be available two weeks after the Member States sign the contracts with the bidders, which they should do very rapidly.
Flow of Goods
On another note, on the 23rd March 2020, the EU Commission issued new practical advice on how to implement its Guidelines for border management, in order to keep freight moving across the EU during the current pandemic (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_510).
The aim is to ensure that EU-wide supply chains continue to operate, Member States are requested to designate, without delay, all the relevant internal border-crossing points on the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) as ‘green lane’ border crossings. The green lane border crossings should be open to all freight vehicles, whatever goods they are carrying. Crossing the border, including any checks and health screening, should not take more than 15 minutes.
Temporary restriction of non-essential travel to the EU
Additionally, the Heads of State and Government of European Union Member States and associated non-EU Member States have agreed to the recommendation put forward by the Commission that, for the purpose of containing or slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, restrictions should be imposed on non-essential travel from third countries into the EU+ area, initially for a period of 30 days. This travel restriction came into effect on 19th March 2020 (https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/1/2020/EN/COM-2020-115-F1-EN-MAIN-PART-1.PDF).
EU’s Limited Contribution to Member States’ Health Care Policies
Also, according to article 168 of the Treaty of Functioning of the European Union, the health policies fall under the supporting competence of the EU. This means that the prime decision ability lays with the member states and the union can only complement national policies and encourage cooperation. Therefore, Europe has only a minimal amount of contribution regarding what health care policies each country is implementing to tackle the virus (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A12008E168) (https://euobserver.com/coronavirus/147865).
This global phenomenon – the coronavirus pandemic – with its disruptive effect on the health and the economy worldwide, demands a more firm and united action from the EU.