EU Action Against Covid-19

Grim health and economic outlooks have motivated some EU institutions to take unprecedented actions. Initially accused of being slow to react, the European Union has sprung into action over the last few weeks and launched a series of countermeasures at the Union level.

Throughout last week, the European Commission announced several key measures to address the ongoing crisis and to help weather the storm caused by the outbreak.

From an economic perspective, the Commission reacted by proposing to activate the escape clause of the Stability and Growth Pact (so that Member States can indebt themselves to fight COVID-19 without having to respect the EU’s budget deficit rules), announcing previously unseen flexibility on state aid rules (so that Member States can subsidise economic sectors and actors without violating the competition rules of the EU’s internal market), as well as putting forward a proposal for a Corona Response Investment Initiative to instantly make available close to €38 Billion to support member states’ economies and healthcare systems in their fight against the pandemic.

From a health perspective, the European Commission published European manufacturing standards for medical supplies. The European Commission also announced a joint procurement plan for personal protective equipment. Moreover, it adopted decisions on harmonised standards which will allow manufacturers to place on the market high performing devices.

The European Parliament approved the European Commission’s proposal on more flexible airport slots for airlines, in order to help them not lose slots as they do under ordinary rules if the do not operate them sufficiently as is currently the case. Now, the Council has to formally approve the European Parliament’s position; the adopted measures will enter into force once published in the Official Journal of the European Union in the coming days.

In the area of food supply, on March 25th, the Croatian Council Presidency published a press release following the videoconference of EU Ministers in charge of agriculture and fisheries. Ministers discussed measures already taken, as well as those planned at the national and European level in order to counteract the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the agriculture and fisheries sectors.

On transport, the European Commission published a communication on the implementation of the Green Lanes for a seamless cross-border transport of essential goods in the EU under the Guidelines for border management measures. These “green lane” border crossings should be open to all freight vehicles carrying any type of goods. Crossing the border should not take more than 15 minutes.

The European Commission followed up on this on March 26th by publishing an additional communication calling on EU Member States to support air cargo operations during the coronavirus crisis. It recommends operational and organisational steps to keep essential transport flows moving. Further recommendations include granting temporary traffic rights for additional cargo operations from outside the EU.

On 23rd March, European Commissioner for Justice and Consumers Didier Reynders sent written letters to Facebook, Google, Amazon, Alibaba Group, eBay, Rakuten, Cdiscount, WishShopping and Allegro requiring their cooperation in taking down Corona-related scams from their platforms.

On that day, European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton held a videoconference with CEOs of European telecommunication companies to discuss: network resilience, the need to collect anonymised mobile metadata to help analyse the patterns of diffusion of the coronavirus in full compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and ePrivacy legislation, and the importance of protecting the networks against cyber-attacks.

On March 25th the European Commission launched the AI-ROBOTICS vs COVID-19 initiative to collect ideas about deployable artificial intelligence and robotic solutions as well as information on other initiatives that could help face the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

On March 24th, the Eurogroup convened via video conference in order to take stock of the measures already taken and of the initiatives that are being explored among institutions in response to the COVID-19 economic fallout.

On March 25th, the European Commission issued guidelines to ensure a strong EU-wide approach to foreign investment screening in a time of public health crisis and related economic vulnerability. The aim is to preserve EU companies and critical assets, notably in areas such as health, medical research, biotechnology and infrastructures that are essential for our security and public order, without undermining the EU’s general openness to foreign investment.

(This content was created with the help of content provided by Dods Parliamentary Communications Ltd.)