25.3.2020, Brussels. We publish here a blog by Niels Jørgen Thøgersen. The European of Danish origin lives in Brussels and is a former Director of the European Commission (DG Communication). This text is taken out of his daily letters from today. See and share his blogs about Europe: EUROPE AT WORK: www.europe-at-work.be (På dansk: EUROPA I ARBEJDSTØJET: www.europa-i-arbejde.be ) He has also started now a new one, covering life with the Corona Virus and how people cope with difficulties: LIFE WITH CORONA / LIVET MED CORONA, https://life-with-corona.blogspot.com
What does the EU do to help solving the huge Problems in context with the Corona crisis? – The short reply is that the European Union does not have special competences when health issues are concerned. And it never had so. The founding fathers of the EU chose that these matters are national issues. So the EU does not have the possibility to adopt regulations or directives about health questions. And when such possibilities do not exist they are not there either in a major crisis like today, even if there seems to be a general wish that EU should do more.
This being said it is evident that the 27 EU member states can and are using their close cooperation in the EU to coordinate their work and initiatives. This also happens in the present situation. On February 13, the health ministers from all the member states held an informal meeting. The heads of state and government have done the same. And they will do that again tomorrow, March 26, in a video conference, where the Corona crisis is main point on the agenda.
The EU has already certain structures in place, which are very active also in the present crisis. The Cypriot member of the EU Commission, Mrs. Stella Kyriakidis, is responsible for Health and Food Safety. She has a background as psychologist. And the EU Agency for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm is very active in following the development, collect information, analyse it and make recommendations. See more: https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en Its leader is Dr. Andrea Ammon. She is German and comes from the well-known Robert Koch Institute in Germany. And finally the European Medicines Agency in Amsterdam. It analyses and approves new medications on behalf of all member states. See more here: https://www.ema.europa.eu/en Its leader is the Italian professor Guido Rasi.
In addition to help with the coordination EU can also use many of its instruments to support the work in this crisis. Here are some examples of what is being done:
1. The Commission has very quickly approved that each member state may break the agreements about their budgets. Each country needs to give massive economic support to citizens, business, etc., to keep society going. This is giving direct economic subsidies, guarantees, easing of the rules on state aid, etc. As the Commission has been asked to monitor that the governments stick to the agreements in these areas it is also the Commission which may give temporary permissions not to follow the rules. This has been done to each country very quickly.
2. On March 17 it was agreed to close EU’s external borders for 30 days. The purpose is to prevent the virus to continue to cross these borders. So-called Green Corridors are installed to ensure free flow of goods, medicines, etc. despite the closure. This is also the case on the internal borders, where they are temporarily closed. Last week a queue of 57 km lorries waited at the German-Polish border. Such situations have to be avoided.
3. EU is using some of its research funds ( Horizon 2020 ) to support development of vaccines against the corona. One case is an 80 mill. € loan to the German company CureVac in Tübingen, which is working on a vaccine. It seems that president Trump has tried to buy that company to ensure its products only for the American public. It did not work. And the director of the company left immediately after a meeting in The White House.
4. The European Central Bank in Frankfurt has created a special fund with 750 billion € to support the European economy and the Euro. And president Christine Lagarde has emphasized that its support is unlimited.
Tomorrow’s virtual EU summit will discuss and probably further develop these initiatives. And they will also discuss a new proposal from their president, Charles Michel, that EU should create a real European Crisis Centre to handle this crisis and other crisis in the future.