Global climate conference COP26 is pushed to 2021, the European Commission launches unemployment reinsurance scheme encompassing €100 billion, the EIB proposes up to €40 billion in finance, and tracking apps continue to spread amid growing privacy concerns.
- European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said today that Europe’s post-coronavirus recovery would cost €1.6 trillion and that the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) bailout fund would not be sufficient. According to Breton, there must be other financial instruments (source: POLITICO).
- The Commission has issued practical guidelines on the application of the EU public procurement framework during the emergency related to COVID-19. According to the communication, public buyers may make use of increased flexibility, such as cutting tender deadlines or hand-picking companies as suppliers, provided they are the only ones that can deliver what is necessary under the technical and temporal restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Commissioner Breton urged all public buyers to fully exploit these flexibilities and to get creative.
- The Commission has approved the proposal to delay the Medical Device Regulation for a year, after the original deadline for the transition period was set for 26th May. The proposal is on its way to the Council and the EP for approval.
- President von der Leyen recorded a video message on disinformation during the coronavirus crisis. To face the increasing number of false claims about the coronavirus outbreak online or on social media, von der Leyen announced the launch of a special section on the coronavirus response website.
- Commission officials say preparations for the carbon border levy are going ahead as planned — but there is still time to adapt the file to any new priorities over the course of the year. Brussels was not planning to present a legislative proposal before 2021 anyway. The “draft inception impact assessment” on a carbon border adjustment mechanism was published on 4th March with a deadline of 1st April to respond.
- The European Commission has launched its 2020 call for project proposals under the LIFE programme. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Angelo Salsi, head of the LIFE unit at EASME said that the Commission “encourages all applicants to look at their project idea and identify any element that could potentially improve our collective ability to avoid or to deal with a similar future crisis.” LIFE funds programmes helping the Green Deal.
- An extraordinary plenary to continue with parliamentary work on the special measures to fight the pandemic will be held on Thursday 16th and Friday 17th April in Brussels. Parliament will vote on any legislative or budgetary proposals prepared in time by the European Commission to further address the current situation. The Parliament’s calendar of activities has also been modified to introduce additional dates for remote meetings for Parliament’s governing bodies, committees and political groups. Weeks of remote working are foreseen until July.
- The Budget Committee of the EP has called for a post-COVID-19 budget proposal and for contingency plans for after 2020. According to the press release, the EU budget must and will be part of the solution to overcome public health, economic and social shocks. Contingency plans are asked to address immediate consequences of the COVID-19 crisis, which must be recognised in the budget, next to pre-existing challenges.
- 37 MEPs, mostly from the ECR group, have asked that the European Green Deal, a Commission flagship policy, is dropped for the time being due to the coronavirus crisis.
The European Investment Bank
- The EIB has published an overview of its response to the virus outbreak. According to the text, the EIB has proposed a plan of up to €40 billion to finance bridging loans, credit holiday, and other liquidity providing measures. The proposal includes the European Investment Fund focusing on support for SMEs.
- World Health Organisation: The COVID-19 Health System Response Monitor (HSRM) is a new online platform being launched today to provide countries and stakeholders in the WHO European Region with evidence of how national health systems are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The COP26 UN climate change conference has been postponed by the organisers, the governments of the UK and Italy. The summit was supposed to take place in Glasgow in November 2020, with preparatory meetings being hosted by Italy in the months prior. The new date remains to be announced but will be in 2021. European Commission Executive Vice President Timmermans, responsible for the EU Green Deal, has taken note of the postponement and has expressed his understanding for the decision. At the same time, he reassured the international partners that the EU would not slow down in preparing for COP26 and reiterated the goal of a climate neutral EU by 2020.
- World Trade Organisation: DG Azvedo and Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce John Denton have issued a joint statement calling for the inclusion of business into the response to COVID-19. According to the statement, business was a good indicator for where trade flows went and where they were inhibited, ultimately identifying solutions as well. According to Azvedo and Denton, a significant rebuild of domestic policies as well as international cooperation would be necessary after the crisis.
- Germany: The German Government is planning to ask the Commission to approve EU-wide voucher systems to cover package tours, flights, and events cancelled due to the virus outbreak. The move comes to protect the tourism and travel industry, which is amongst those hit the hardest by the pandemic. To ensure liquidity, consumers are supposed to receive vouchers they can use at a later date instead of refunds – until 2021, when consumers, according to the German plan, will be able to claim cash (source: POLITICO).
- France: French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire today said Paris would only consider nationalisation on a temporary basis should the state need to step in. “The issue here is to allow the state to protect companies for a limited period by taking a stake in companies or by temporary nationalisation” he said on France 24 TV and radio.
Medical Equipment and Vaccine Development
- International actors suggest making changes to the global patent rights regime amidst the COVID-19 crisis. This include issuing “compulsory licenses” that knock down patent barriers for drug production, creating a global “pool” of data and technology to broaden access to treatments and urging major drug companies to relinquish control over important medicines. Especially NGOs who have long criticised the pharma industry’s tight grip on intellectual property stress that some countries are already moving towards compulsory licensing, particularly in the context of the current pandemic. Examples include Germany, Israel, and Canada (source: POLITICO).
- The Commission has adopted a decision to cut all tariffs on imports of medical equipment until at least 31st July. This is to facilitate the import of material needed to fight the virus outbreak, such as masks and ventilators.
- The Presidents of the European Council, Commission, European Central Bank and Eurogroup held a videoconference to take stock of the socio-economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis and to discuss the next steps. The next steps are set to include a coordinated exit strategy, a comprehensive recovery plan and unprecedented investment.
- The Commission has proposed SURE, an unemployment reinsurance scheme encompassing €100 billion that is intended to support workers through the COVID-19 crisis. Under the programme, companies can reduce the hours worked of employees, or pause operations entirely. Workers would then receive compensation for hours not worked by the Member States. Self-employed too would receive income replacement. The plan requires Member State guarantees of €25 billion to the Commission so that the EU could issue the debt necessary to fund SURE. The Council has published a corresponding proposal for a Council regulation.
- The Commission has also put together an overview of the resources it mobilised in the fight against the virus, including re-directed solidarity funds.
- The European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) announced the launch of a new financing initiative that aims to unlock close to €1.6 billion of investment in the agriculture and bioeconomy sector. The financing aims to support private companies operating throughout the value chains of production and processing of food, bio-based materials and bioenergy.
- French Finance Minister Le Maire has said he was pushing for “a very strong instrument” to help an economic recovery, as a compromise after Germany and the Netherlands rejected President Emmanuel Macron’s call for “corona bonds”, or more permanent eurobonds. The Minister is planning to propose this to his fellows at a Eurogroup meeting on Tuesday.
- A draft plan has emerged for ESM Pandemic Crisis Support, detailing credit lines to members of the Eurozone from ESM funds. However, using the ESM has been met with resistance by countries like Italy, who fear that tapping the rescue fund would set off another sovereign-debt crisis in markets (source: POLITICO).
- The EP and the Council have approved a regulation to increase financial mobilisation / investments in the healthcare systems of Member States in response to COVID-19.
- The Dutch privacy regulator has put a hurdle to the use of telecommunication data in the fight against COVID-19. While EU regulators have said that anonymising data was possible, the Dutch authority holds to the contrary and said the Government has to pass emergency legislation before it would be able to use data to map the virus. According to the European Data Protection Board, EU data rules were not applying to anonymised data.
- Poland has developed a smartphone app that collects personal information such as location and photos to fight the pandemic. The app has now been made mandatory for all those potentially infected with the virus. The app allows government officials to pinpoint the exact location of citizens and prompt them to take a selfie to confirm. According to government figures, the app has been downloaded more than 90,000 times.
- The Commission is looking into apps developed and deployed to fight the spread of COVID-19. This is also to assess whether applications comply in full with European privacy standards (source: POLITICO).
- A project called the Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing has published the code for an app that uses Bluetooth signals between phones to analyse whether users have been close to someone who later tested positive on COVID-19. According to the initiative, this way third parties were not able to abuse data, abiding by European privacy standards.
- Google will start publishing mobility reports using aggregated, anonymised data to showcase how mobility patterns have changed during the epidemic. Reports will show developments over several weeks, and are available for everybody, though intended to help policy makers to make informed decisions, for example regarding opening hours.
- The European Automobile Manufacturers Association has published a press release estimating that over 1.1 million EU automobile workers were affected by the virus so far, with over 1.2 million fewer vehicles produced. POLITICO mentions increased demand, flexibility in CO2 rules, and short-term salaries (amongst others) as measures to support the industry and its workers.