Eurogroup reaches landmark decision on €500B of economic aid but no “corona bonds”, EU proposes toolbox using technology and data to combat the COVID-19 crisis but postpones publication of European exit strategy
- State-aid: The Commission proposed to Member States to amend the State-aid Temporary Framework currently in place, to allow for greater Member State flexibility providing recapitalisation to companies in need. Given the potential distortions public interventions could cause to the single market, recapitalisation was to remain a measure of last resort. The Commission’s proposal lays out clear conditions with regards to the state’s entry, remuneration, and exit from company support, including strict governance provisions and measures to limit distortion.
- For now, no European exit strategy: The last edition of this bulletin reported that the Commission was set to publish an exit strategy guidance document on Wednesday, 8th Upon the Commission’s announcements, Member State Governments have expressed their objection, and the Commission postponed the press conference where President von der Leyen was supposed to talk on the matter. The strategy is now expected after Easter.
- The European Commission proposed to extend the travel ban for non-essential travel from outside the EU until 15th The travel ban had first been decided upon on 17th March. In a corresponding communication, the Commission reported that travel has since reduced by 86%.
- The European Commission has issued guidelines asking Member States to end export restrictions or bans on medical products necessary to fight the virus. The four countries that currently have restrictions in place are France, Poland, Romania, and Hungary. According to the guidelines, these countries are expected to lift restrictions for exports onto the internal market in a “spirit of European solidarity”. Even when legally justifiable, restrictions were detrimental to the treatment of European patients, the Commission writes. Instead, countries are asked to avoid stockpiling, reorganise production, provide for fair distribution, and ensure smooth transport of goods.
- The European Commissionpublished on Wednesday a Temporary Framework Communication to provide antitrust guidance to companies cooperating in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. In particular, the Communication explains the main criteria that the Commission will follow in assessing these possible cooperation projects. In a statement, Commissioner Vestager explained that this was to ensure that European companies were able to meet the surge in demand caused by the pandemic. The framework entered into force on 8th April and will be applicable until further notice.
- Agricultural Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has written a letter to the agricultural ministers of Member States, calling for the use of full flexibility available to national authorities under the rural development framework of the CAP. The Commissioner’s priority is that all measures are available as quickly and efficiently as possible. Amongst the steps mentioned are cooperation to support farmers and rural inhabitants with delivery services, investments at farm level financed by rural development funds, advisory services to farmers and farm relief services, as well as financial assistance. According to the letter, the sum available for this could be up to €17 billion from unused CAP budgets.
- The Commission has extended the deadline for national implementation of 5G security measures. Governments now have until 15th May to increase security of mobile networks. The original deadline had been postponed because the pandemic complicated the implementation process (source: POLITICO).
- President Sassoli has called on the Eurogroup governments to step up their COVID-19 response. In a statement, Sassoli said that while Europe has risen to the challenge in some areas, for example its employment reinsurance scheme, it has not responded adequately in others. To finance the economic recovery from the current crisis, the EU budget will not suffice, says the President, and calls upon Eurogroup members to find “extraordinary and shared ways to finance” recovery (this was before the group reached an agreement on late Thursday, 8th April).
- A number of Green MEPs led by Grace O’Sullivan (Ireland) and Ville Niinistö (Finland) have sent a letter to the Commission asking for no more delays regarding the publication of the Green Deal’s biodiversity strategy. The paper was originally scheduled to be revealed on 25th March and had been postponed until 29th
- The European Parliament publisheda list of giveaways to help consumers identify scams when shopping online. According to the European Parliament, due to self-isolation and social distancing, online shopping is on the rise and some traders are taking advantage of that anxiety to sell fake cures or products that allegedly prevent infection at very high prices. They also recommend that people who come across unsupported or misleading claims on an online platform use the platform operators’ reporting tool to inform them of that fact.
Council (and other ministerial bodies)
- The EU finance ministers resolved their dispute around a European response to the economic fallout following the COVID-19 outbreak and agreed on a deal unleashing €500 billion available to Member States. The first part of the agreement allows the European Investment Bank to provide guarantees for €200 billion in loans to European companies. The second part allows Member States to draw on ESM credit lines worth 2% of their 2019 GDP. The funds can be used without conditions applying but must be used to finance direct or indirect healthcare, or cure and prevention related costs. The credit line will be available until the crisis is over. The agreement also endorses the Commission’s employment programme SURE. Coronabonds are not part of the package.
- The EU Ambassadors (COREPER) approved the Commission’s proposal for a one-year delay of the Medical Device Regulation. The proposal was published on 3rd April and is supposed to give countries more time to prepare, given the current hurdles imposed by the pandemic. The proposal now has to be cleared by the Council and the Parliament in order to be approved (source: POLITICO).
- The outbreak of COVID-19 is going to have great impact on the German Council Presidency, due to commence in July. The coronavirus pandemic will require a “radical prioritisation and reduction” of targets, Berlin’s ambassador to Brussels has warned. Ambassador Michael Clauß sounded the alarm in a confidential note, seen by POLITICO, to the Berlin government on Monday. The letter is a high-level admission that the coronavirus crisis will likely affect not only the bloc’s agenda but also the working methods and efficiency of EU institutions for many months to come. “From now on, the main focus will be on the ability of the European institutions to act, on crisis management, on the exit [from the crisis] and reconstruction — and possibly on the maintenance of EU integration as such,” Clauß wrote, adding: “The success of our presidency will be measured by this.” The German EU ambassador said he believed that not only travel restrictions but also “social distancing” rules would “extend well into our presidency.” Clauß also warned of a “considerably slowed down” legislative process, as the Commission, Council presidency and Parliament cannot meet as usual in the so-called “trilogue” format to reach compromises on new bills and would have to resort to videoconferences instead, entailing similar concerns about a lack of efficiency and confidentiality (source: POLITICO).
- The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has pleaded caution as to the risks of the COVID-19 outbreak. According to the agency’s latest risk assessment, the situation could still turn worse in Europe, and national and European systems are still at risk of finding themselves overwhelmed. Despite recent decreases in the number of new infections reported and deaths occurring, the ECDC warned that statistics were likely to be partially inaccurate and that there is no sign that the peak of the epidemic had been surpassed.
- European Research Council (ERC): President Mauro Ferrari has resigned from his position on Tuesday, 7th of April, after having been appointed only three months prior. In a statement, Ferrari describes his fallout with the governing body of the ERC and expresses disappointment about the ERC’s and the EU’s approach to fighting COVID-19. In response, the ERC’s Scientific Council said that Ferrari had been asked to resign unanimously ten days prior to his resignation.
Tackling the Virus
- On the 9th of April, an online hackathon kicked off with the goal of finding solutions to the pandemic. The topics to be tackled include crisis response, education, governance, and environment. The hackathon will run until the 12th of April and is accompanied by world innovation leaders. The prize pool for the best ideas is €195,000.
- The European Commission issued anon-binding Recommendation on a common Union toolbox for the use of technology and data to combat and exit from the COVID-19 crisis, in particular concerning mobile applications and the use of anonymised mobility data. It is to be developed by 15th April 2020 by the Member States, together with the Commission and in association with the European Data Protection Board (EDPB). The envisaged toolbox would focus on two dimensions: (i) a pan-European coordinated approach for the use of mobile applications for empowering citizens to take effective and more targeted social distancing measures and for warning, preventing and contact tracing; and (ii) a common approach for modelling and predicting the evolution of the virus through anonymised and aggregated mobile location data.
- The European Plastics Converters have asked the Commission to postpone the implementation of the Single-Use Plastics Directive given the current COVID-19 outbreak. According to a letter sent to the Commission, single-use plastics offer advantages relevant to the fight against COVID-19, for example in ensuring hygiene and preservation from contamination.