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European Union’s initiatives

EU institutions have adopted various decisions since the start of the pandemic which have been crucial to coordinate essential activities. However, a stronger coordination of some Member States have been missing, especially across borders. There is a clear need to increase EU integration in various fields, and the EU is also expected to play a more relevant role at global level. In this article you will find a summary of most important measures implemented by the EU during the pandemic: border management and Green Lanes, cross-border workers, passenger rights and transport issues; the Roadmap to lifting containment measures, and financial initiatives such as the Corona Response Investment Initiative, the Pandemic Crisis Support Instrument and the SURE Initiative.

“Despite of the strong communication effort, sometimes too strong, there is a feeling of global leadership vacuum to be filled, and the EU is the only credible candidate”, stated Friends of Europe this week. There has been too many communication initiatives by EU institutions and Member States, sometimes contradictory, and “what is missing is a clear and simple message that public opinion across Europe, and indeed worldwide, can rally behind”. There is an opportunity for the EU “to call for an end to geopolitical blame games, lead the search for a vaccine but also become a role model for a rapid and sustainable recovery (…) with bold and innovative ideas as well as new and inclusive conversations”.

Regarding border management, the Commission reacted very rapidly on 16 March, with a set of Guidelines for border management measures to protect health and ensure the availability of goods and essential services. On 18 March, the Commission Notice: Interpretative Guidelines on EU passenger rights regulations in the context of the developing situation with Covid-19, followed and, on 23 March, the Communication from the Commission on the implementation of the Green Lanes under the Guidelines for border management measures to protect health and ensure the availability of goods and essential services, closed a first package of urgent measures. On 26 March, a Communication on Guidelines facilitating Air Cargo Operations during Covid-19 outbreak followed.

Cross-border realities were on the spot, and most Member States had to include a clear exception in their measures for cross-border workers, implemented with different approaches, as usual. This was highlighted by the Joint Statement of the Members of the Council on 26 March, and a joint Communication – A European Roadmap to lifting coronavirus containment measures followed on 15 April.

On 13 May, the European Commission presented guidelines and recommendations to help Member States gradually lift travel restrictions, with all the necessary safety and precautionary means in place. Measures intended to enable citizens to travel again after months of confinement include, but are not limited to restore freedom of movement and lifting internal border controls, restore transport services across the EU, safely resume tourism services, ensure cross-border interoperability of tracing apps, and make vouchers more attractive for customers.

Temporary non-essential travel restrictions are expected until 15 June.

On medical equipment, the Commission already created on 19 March a rescEU stockpile.

Even before, on 10 March, the European Commission had announced it would bring out a Corona Response Investment Initiative directed at health care systems, SMEs, labour markets and other vulnerable parts of the EU member states’ economies. A legislative proposal to amend the Common Provisions Regulation, the European Regional Development Fund and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund regulations was published on 13 March. Commission proposed to direct EUR 37 billion under the cohesion policy to the fight against the coronavirus crisis, by means of relinquishing this year its obligation to request the return of pre-financing for the structural funds. This amounts to about EUR 8 billion from the EU budget, which Member States will be able to use to supplement EUR 29 billion of structural fundings across the EU. In addition, the Commission proposed to extend the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund by also including a public health crisis within its scope, in view of mobilising it, if needed, for the hardest hit Member States.

The European Parliament had already mobilised on 13 March to channel EU funds to those affected by the pandemic

Then, the Pandemic Crisis Support instrument is a € 240 billion credit line within the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) with no conditionality. Its scope, duration and the type of loans are still open questions.

The new Sure initiative (Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency) will provide loans of up to €100 billion to EU countries, to help finance national short-time work schemes and protect jobs during the coronavirus crisis. It will complement national efforts to protect employment and it is expected to be operational on 1 June 2020. More information about the latest Commission’s proposal on the MFF and the Recovery Instrument can be found in a specific article in this Newsletter.

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