On an interview about the effects of COvid-19 on society and economy (by Romanian National Radio, therefore in Romanian), I was asked about what the EU is doing or thinking about doing, considering the current situation in Europe. I responded that the state is the only provider of security for its population – and health relates to the very basic security need that the population has. So, the EU role in this crisis builds on how the EU member states decide to cooperate on addressing the coronavirus situation in Europe.
Going off-air, the question stayed with me. So, it was research time. Health is a prerogative for the member states, but the EU still needs to provide for its citizens. Especially since the free movement of persons is guaranteed by the very existence of the EU.
Here is what I found.
The EU Council has held two extraordinary meetings on the topic, both at ministerial level. On March 10, the president of the EU Council has had an online video conference with the European Council members. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, Mario Centeno, President of the Eurogroup, and High Representative Josep Borrell also took part in the discussion. Separately, the EU Parliament also discussed on the topic too. The topics referred to priorities for the EU – limiting the spread of the virus, making sure treatment is available and tackling the socio-economic consequences of the current situation.
Besides the meetings held and the topics covered, the sense of urgency felt through the documents and papers I consulted relates to several elements:
Crisis management – immediate, tactical issues:
- With the virus not respecting borders, the member states authorities and the Commission look to coordinate on issuing common recommendations and action in dealing with public events, flights from/to crisis regions;
- Coordination and cooperation with the neighboring states is also needed and was stressed in all the meetings;
- The information provided by member states needs to be latest and real, considering the level of EU integration, with WHO and specialized agencies closely monitoring so that decision on precautionary steps be taken accordingly;
- The member states need to work together and make all possible efforts to overcome possible shortages of protection equipment for medical personnel as well as possible shortages of test kits to guarantee that suspicious patients can be tested immediately, but also for the public as well as the shortages of medicines. The creation of an international platform to monitor stocks and shortages of drugs in real time was discussed;
- Coordination is needed to tackle the problem of illicit medicines and materials, as well as overpriced products due to shortages of medicines and materials. Planning for avoiding risks related to such problems was demanded also during the discussions that have taken place;
- Coordination is also needed so that medical staff can serve the most needed regions all over Europe and that if it is necessary patients can be treated abroad when domestic capacities are exhausted.
Strategic management – long-term focused issues:
- Coordination and flexibility on action to buffer the negative economic consequences of the coronavirus outbreak, including applying the elements of flexibility foreseen within the EU’s fiscal rules to address events outside the control of governments. The measures should focus on increasing health spending and support for sectors directly affected; they should be specific for addressing current challenges in a timely manner;
- The EU reaction to the economic shock of the financial crisis could provide a blueprint for dealing with the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis. In this sense, considering prior experience and lessons learned, the EU’s response should be built on EIB loans and the EFSI fund;
- The ECB need to act in a coordinated manner with the most important monetary authorities so that exchange rate tensions be avoided was also mentioned;
- The role of the EIB and EFSI (European Fund for Strategic Investments) is considered to be fundamental in compensating the drop in investment resulting from the crisis;
- The need for developing a legal base for cooperation of the EU in case of crisis was stressed in some discussions, considering the need for a better reaction in case of a similar crisis – now and in the future.
INFOSources on the matter:
Information on Europe, from the EU institutions or agencies:
Information in Romanian straight from the EU can be found here – all countries have their own dedicated page on the matter, so that citizens can read information in their own language.