April 17, 2020 |
With the World Health Organisation warning that Europe is now in ‘the eye of the storm’ during the unprecedented global COVID-19 pandemic, the EU’s leadership in Brussels has this week begun charting the course to economic recovery. On Wednesday, the European Commission and European Council jointly published an exit strategy to coordinate the roll-back of national public health measures implemented to contain the spread of Coronavirus.
To ensure confinement measures are lifted in a gradual and orderly manner across the bloc, the EU’s executive has set out criteria for Member States to assess whether to begin relaxing restrictions, provided they can prove transmission rates have significantly decreased, as well as having sufficient capacity in hospitals and for large-scale testing. When presenting the roadmap on Wednesday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen cautioned that this is “not a signal that confinement measures can be lifted as of now, but it intends to provide a frame for Member States’ decisions.”
The Commission has also set out accompanying measures for the Member States to develop a harmonised system of reporting and contact tracing, in addition to reinforcing the production of Personal Protective Equipment and other medical equipment. It follows with further recommendations on the staggered re-starting of economic activity, the gradual lifting of internal border controls and specific targeted actions towards the most vulnerable in society.
This exit strategy will prepare the ground for the Commission to develop a comprehensive recovery plan, based on a reworked proposal for the EU’s next long-term budget – the Multiannual Financial Framework – and the updated Commission Work Programme for 2020. EU leaders are expected to discuss a major investment strategy in the European Council via video-conference next week, while EU finance ministers indicated their support for a proposed €100 billion package to support national work schemes (‘SURE’) last night.
In parallel, Members of the European Parliament convened to debate the EU’s coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences during a two-day extraordinary plenary in Brussels this week. Among the items discussed by MEPs were the exit strategy and a €3 billion emergency support package for national health care systems.
A non-binding resolution on the EU’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was approved. The draft text calls for a united and decisive response to the shared crisis, and for a post-pandemic Union that can deliver more effectively at the European level during future health emergencies. To this end, the authors highlighted the need for action in the health sector, such as stronger competences for the European Medicines Agency or the creation of a European Health Response Mechanism, and for solutions to overcome the economic and social consequences, namely a massive reconstruction package as part of the next long-term budget.
Having faced sustained criticism for not doing enough at the beginning of the pandemic, the EU’s leadership will be hoping an orderly exit and recovery strategy will help to mitigate more costly disruption during the economic fallout. Addressing the European Parliament yesterday, President von der Leyen offered a “heartfelt apology” to Italy and other adversely affected Member States, but promised “we will use every available euro we have, in every way we can, to save lives and protect livelihoods of Europeans.”
Compliments of Vulcan Consulting – a member of the EACCNY