News

Coronavirus: Commission boosts budget for repatriation flights and rescEU stockpile | EU Commission Press

Today, the European Commission has proposed to make €75 million from the EU budget available to help Member States repatriate EU nationals and to increase the budget of the RescEU medical stockpile.

Commissioner Johannes Hahn, in charge of the EU budget, said: “Today’s measure is yet another illustration of how the EU budget can add value when and where needed the most. It is also an illustration of European solidarity and cooperation at its best.

Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, said: “The safe return of our citizens is a priority. We are doing all we can to ensure they are reunited with their families as soon as possible during these difficult times. I would like to thank Member States for their efforts during this process. Our Emergency Response Coordination Centre continues working 24/7 with Member States in order to meet their requests.”

Repatriation flights

Thanks to repatriation flights organised through the Union Civil Protection Mechanism and co-financed by the EU, 2,312 people have been already repatriated to Europe from China, Japan, the U.S., Morocco, Tunisia, Georgia, the Philippines and Cabo Verde since the beginning of the outbreak. More than 80 further repatriation flights are planned in the coming days.

Under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, the EU contributes to the costs of repatriation flights that carry nationals of more than one Member State, based on a principle of solidarity.

RescEU stockpile

This European Commission proposal will increase the total budget of the first ever rescEU stockpile of medical equipment (ventilators, protective masks and essential medical gear) to €80 million.

Background

The Commission is putting forward a draft amending budget – a proposal to reorganise part of the EU spending for the year in line with the latest priorities – to secure funding for these operations.

The draft amending budget also foresees:

–      €350 million of migration management assistance to Greece, to add to the extra €350 million emergency assistance already being deployed, in line with the commitment of President von der Leyen during her visit to Greece;

–      3.6 million for the the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to enhance the capacity to identify, assess and communicate threats to human health from communicable diseases, and in particular to increase the expert capacity in the light of the coronavirus crisis;

–      €100 million to help Albania recover from the devastating earthquake on 26 November 2019, part of the €115 million Commission pledge and the total pledge of €1.15 billion;

–      3.3 million additional funding for the European Public Prosecutors’ Office (EPPO) to boost its 2020 budget. The money will, for example, enable EPPO to recruit more quickly qualified staff and to buy IT equipment to start processing the first cases. Together with case-management support for EPPO mobilised already earlier this year, EPPO’s total funding increase for 2020 is therefore at 48%.

Next steps

The European Parliament and the Council are now invited to approve the budgetary changes as quickly as possible, to make sure the money can go where the needs are the most pressing.

For more information

European Commission coronavirus response webpage

Draft amending budget 1

TRADE: EU and 15 World Trade Organisation members establish contingency appeal arrangement for trade disputes | EU Commission Press

The EU and 15 other members of the WTO today decided on an arrangement that will allow them to bring appeals and solve trade disputes among them despite the current paralysis of the WTO Appellate Body. Given its strong and unwavering support for a rules-based trading system, the EU has been a leading force in the process to establish this contingency measure in the WTO.

Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan said: “Today’s agreement delivers on the political commitment taken at ministerial level in Davos in January. This is a stop-gap measure to reflect the temporary paralysis of the WTO’s appeal function for trade disputes. This agreement bears testimony to the conviction held by the EU and many other countries that in times of crisis working together is the best option. We will continue our efforts to restore the appeal function of the WTO dispute settlement system as a matter of priority. In the meantime, I invite other WTO Members to join this open arrangement, crucial for the respect and enforcement of international trade rules.”

The Multiparty Interim Appeal Arbitration Arrangement mirrors the usual WTO appeal rules and can be used between any members of the Organisation willing to join, as long as the WTO Appellate Body is not fully functional.

Today’s agreement underscores the importance that the participating WTO members – Australia; Brazil; Canada; China; Chile; Colombia; Costa Rica; the European Union; Guatemala; Hong Kong, China; Mexico; New Zealand; Norway; Singapore; Switzerland; and Uruguay – attach to a functioning two-step dispute settlement system at the WTO. Such a system guarantees that trade disputes can be resolved through an impartial and independent adjudication, which is essential for the multilateral trading system based on rules.

We expect the Multiparty Interim Appeal Arbitration Arrangement to be officially notified to the WTO in the coming weeks, once the respective WTO Members complete their internal procedures, after which it will become operational.

For more information

Ministerial statement

Text of the Arrangement

Statement by Ministers, Davos, 24 January 2020

EU statement at the WTO’s General Council meeting on 9 December 2019

EU proposal for reform of the Appellate Body

Coronavirus: Commission welcomes political agreement on the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative and modified rules on airport slots | EU Commission Press

The European Commission welcomes the European Parliament’s adoption of the Commission’s proposal for a Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative as well as the proposed amendments to the rules on airport slots. The Parliament’s adoption comes only one week after a political agreement between Member States was reached on the proposals, and within two weeks after the proposals were put on the table. To recall, on 13 March, the Commission made two legislative proposals to free up funding under the structural funds, to redirect and reprogramme Cohesion Policy funds and to extend the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund. The objective is to release and spend the money quickly to help with most pressing needs, whether these are hospital beds, keeping SMEs afloat or helping workers. In addition, the Commission also proposed to amend EU rules on airport slots. This measure will help both the European aviation industry and the environment, as it releases pressure on industry – in particular on smaller airlines – and it also decreases emissions by avoiding so-called ‘ghost flights’ where airlines fly almost empty aircrafts to keep their slots. Once the Council will have formally adopted the political agreements found, the new legislation can enter into force, to the direct benefit of all.

Coronavirus crisis: Commission launches #CreativeEuropeAtHome | EU Commission Press

The European Commission has launched #CreativeEuropeAtHome, a social media campaign running on its Creative Europe accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It wants to crowdsource the efforts to highlight great online cultural activities happening in the Creative Europe community. #CreativeEuropeAtHome will make them available to culture lovers currently confined to their homes. Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, said: “These days where Europeans are confined to their homes we need more than ever the passion, freedom, creativity and generosity of our Artists and cultural institutions. They are Europe’s soul. They inspire us, bring us together and take us to places we have never been before; especially with #CreativeEuropeAtHome we are working hard to keep art and culture alive and well in the times of coronavirus.” Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “We might be stuck at home, but the joy of a cultural experience makes it easier to live through. Glad to launch #CreativeEuropeAtHome to recognize and thank the numerous online initiatives of our #CreativeEurope community-we are in this together!” The European Commission asks beneficiaries that offer online cultural activities to post about it on social media. The posts should include the dedicated hashtag #CreativeEuropeAtHome and the handle/username of Creative Europe on the platform in question.

Relations with the UK: Vice-President Šefčovič to co-chair the first meeting of EU-UK Joint Committee on Monday, 30 March | EU Commission Press

Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, together with the UK Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, will co-chair on Monday, 30 March the first meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee established by the Withdrawal Agreement. “By holding this important meeting under the current difficult circumstances, we show our political commitment to ensuring the full and precise implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement that is key for building a solid future partnership”, Vice-President Šefčovič said. The Joint Committee is made up of representatives from both the EU and the UK and is responsible for overseeing the implementation and application of the Withdrawal Agreement. One of its many tasks include resolving possible disputes over the interpretation of the Agreement. If such a scenario were to occur, the EU and the UK can refer each other to this Committee. Its first meeting on Monday will allow to make a political assessment of the state of play of the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, and to exchange on the actions planned by the UK, in particular in implementing the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. The meeting will also take stock of the implementation of the citizens’ rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the registration of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in EU Member States. The work of the Specialised Committees will also be launched. Given the extraordinary coronavirus developments, both sides agreed to hold the meeting by way of teleconference. The agenda for the meeting is available online. For more information on the Withdrawal Agreement, see here.

Statement by President Michel and President von der Leyen after the extraordinary G20 video conference on COVID-19 | EU Council Press

Today, Thursday 26 March 2020, the President of the European Council Charles Michel and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen participated in the extraordinary G20 Leaders’ videoconference called by Saudi Arabia that currently holds the G20 Presidency.

Against the backdrop that Europe currently is at the epicentre of the global COVID-19 crisis, the Presidents thanked all G20 leaders for the solidarity shown to the European Union and its Member States most affected by the crisis.

They also underlined that the European Union is committed to international cooperation in tackling this pandemic and will continue to assist vulnerable countries and communities around the world, especially in Africa.

The Presidents of the Council and the Commission stressed that unprecedented events call for unprecedented action and that fast, massive and coordinated global action is necessary on the health and economic fronts to save lives and avoid a further economic crisis.

The G20 has a pivotal role in ensuring such global coordination.

The Presidents insisted that G20 countries should coordinate their macroeconomic policies, mobilising all instruments available, to mitigate the economic downturn, support workers and companies most affected.

President Michel and President von der Leyen also stressed that in order to limit the economic impact on our economies – and to maintain our ability to manufacture and provide the necessary protective and medical equipment, it is imperative that we keep trade flows and supply chains open and avoid any new restrictions.

The EU called on G20 members to assist each other in repatriating citizens stranded abroad who wish to return home.

The European Union thanked the G20 Presidency for its focus on global coordination towards enhancing our collective pandemic preparedness and welcomed the fact that the G20 asked the WHO, working closely together with relevant organizations, to come up quickly with a global initiative on pandemic preparedness and response.

In this context, Europe stands ready to set up an international online pledging event to ensure adequate funding to develop and deploy a vaccine against COVID-19.

COVID-19: Parliament approves crucial EU support measures | EU Parliament Press

As part of the EU’s joint response to the COVID-19 outbreak, MEPs almost unanimously adopted three urgent proposals in an extraordinary plenary session, on Thursday.

The urgent measures to help people and businesses tackle the crisis were voted on in plenary less than two weeks after the Commission tabled its proposals.

The approved proposals are:

The Corona Response Investment Initiative. These measures are meant to channel €37 billion from available EU funds as soon as possible to citizens, regions and countries hit the hardest by the Coronavirus pandemic. The funds will be directed towards healthcare systems, SMEs, labour markets and other vulnerable parts of EU member states’ economies. The proposal was adopted with 683 votes in favour, 1 against and 4 abstentions.

The extension of the EU Solidarity Fund to cover public health emergencies. The measures will make up to €800 million available for European countries in 2020. Operations eligible under the Fund will be extended to include support in a major public health emergency, including medical assistance, as well as measures to prevent, monitor or control the spread of diseases. The proposal was adopted with 671 votes in favour, 3 against and 14 abstentions.

Temporarily suspending EU rules on airport slots. This will stop air carriers from operating empty flights during the pandemic. The temporary suspension means that airlines are not obliged to use their planned take-off and landing slots to keep them in the next corresponding season. The ‘use it or lose it’ rule will be waived for the whole summer season, from 29 March until 24 October 2020. The proposal was adopted with 686 votes in favour, no votes against and 2 abstentions.

Next steps

The Council has to formally approve Parliament’s position. The adopted measures will enter into force once published in the Official Journal of the European Union in the coming days.

Media advisory – Video conference of the members of the European Council, 26 March 2020 | EU Council Press

Indicative programme

16.00 – EU leaders’ videoconference on COVID-19

At the end of the meeting (+/- 18.00): Press conference by Presidents Michel and von der Leyen in the JL press room (livestream)

Arrangements for the press conference

Please note that there will be no physical press conference. EU accredited journalists will be able to ask questions remotely.

We will be using the same arrangement as for the 17 March press conference. If you are not registered yet, please use this link.

Deadline: Thursday, 26 March 2020, 15.00

Further instructions will be sent to all registered participants approximately half an hour after the deadline.

COVID-19: MEPs call for a more unified EU response | EU Parliament Press

  • 687 MEPs participated in the first vote of the special plenary to deal with COVID-19 urgency measures
  • MEPs called for enhanced solidarity among member states to tackle the challenges
  • Long-term EU measures must mitigate the economic impact and invest more in research

Showing strong support for EU measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, MEPs spoke up for strong EU solidarity to help citizens in Thursday’s plenary debate.

Prior to a crucial urgency vote on the first batch of measures proposed by the Commission to help members states tackle the pandemic in an efficient and coordinated way, MEPs called for EU countries to collaborate and to keep internal borders open to allow medical equipment and goods to be delivered.

Respecting strict sanitary precautions, lead MEPs from all political groups gathered in a special session in the Brussels chamber on Thursday, with others following the debate from home. Thanks to special procedures put in place, all MEPs were able to cast their votes remotely: 687 MEPs participated in the first vote to approve the urgency procedure.

Click on the names to view individual statements by group leaders and the Commission.

Opening the debate, President David Sassoli reiterated that the Parliament would not cease to function despite the pandemic. “This is the only way we can serve people, serve our communities, and serve healthcare workers who are sacrificing themselves on the wards of our hospitals across Europe,” the President said. “The Parliament will continue to fulfil its democratic role”, he added.

Emphasizing the need for common action and preserving the single market, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, “When we needed an ‘all for one’ spirit, many gave an ‘only for me’ response. But things are now improving. The free movement of goods and services is the only way to get supplies to where they are needed. Putting barriers between us simply makes no sense! Europe’s citizens will remember the decisions and actions we take today.”

Esteban González Pons (EPP, ES) said: “We need the Europe that comes out on its balcony every evening to applaud health care workers”. He echoed the Commission president and called for resources to be channelled to local health care and for the free flow of medical equipment and goods to be guaranteed. He called for political systems to be maintained, investment into research, and solidarity among European leaders whose “European spirit is failing.”

“Today’s decisions are but a first step”, said Javier Moreno Sánchez (S&D, ES), stressing the need to also put forward measures such as an EU Marshall plan, funded by a new common European debt instrument, and a European unemployment fund, to help mitigate the economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 crisis.

“If Europe is about economic and monetary solidarity, health solidarity is even more necessary” said Dominique Riquet (Renew, FR). He supported steps against empty flights, and said well-organised supply chains are the means to stabilise Europe and fight the disease. “I want this aphorism to apply to Europe and its citizens: whatever does not kill us will make us stronger”, he concluded.

Nicolas Bay (ID, FR) criticised the EU response “We have a big challenge and you are absent. The European Commission has put Europeans at risk. The EU is not even capable of coordinating the measures taken by the member states. The COVID-19 crisis is a nail, perhaps the last one, in the coffin of an impotent bureaucracy”, he said.

Thanks and gratitude are not enough, said Ska Keller (Greens/EFA, DE) who called for help to be extended to the Western Balkans, too. The Greens call for financial help to people who have lost their income and, through “coronabonds”, to ensure the stability of EU countries. These extraordinary times “are not a pretext to undermine checks and balances”: governments must remain under the control of national parliaments, she added.

Derk Jan Eppink (ECR, NL) proposed a different pragmatic response to the crisis. “The new euro bonds or “coronabonds” would not be an effective way to revitalise the European economy. People urgently need cash. National central banks should instead provide credits at zero interest rates to our citizens and companies.”

“A protective Europe would look after its essential workers. Rather than applauding the carers, cashiers, the people on whom our lives depend, let us help them”, said Manon Aubry (GUE/NGL, FR), pleading for the production of health equipment to be shared and for a clear and coordinated strategy to lift the lockdown.

At the end of the session, Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič answered questions raised by MEPs.