EU hints at €1,5 trillion recovery plan and tackles impact on tourism sector; Member States prepare discussions on tracing technology and move to cap prices on PPE.
- The European Commission has put into effect an extension of the export authorisation scheme for PPE, running 30 days as of 26th Under the updated scheme, PPE exporters must apply for an exporting license for protective spectacles, visors, masks, mouth-nose protection, and protective garment with their national governments. Exempted under the scheme are EFTA countries, as well as the Western Balkans, and exports with humanitarian purposes. The Commission will act as a clearing house and is obliged to deliver decisions within 24hrs.
- The Commission has formally notified the World Trade Organisation (WTO) of a new set of trade-related measures the bloc has taken against COVID-19. The measures include the new export authorisation scheme for PPE, a temporary framework for state-aid, a notice on the consequences of COVID-19 on anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations, and guidance issued to Member States regarding the screening of foreign investments to protect European strategic assets, as well as individual Member State actions. The WTO has set up a dedicated website to gather members’ reports on trade measures.
- The Commission has met with the tourism ministers of the Member States to debate how to support the sector during and after the COVID-19 crisis. The Commission presented measures already taken and plans for further assistance. Amongst the measures suggested are EU protocols to ensure the safe operation of tourism facilities across the bloc. Commissioner Breton (Internal Market) stressed that overcoming the crisis required cooperation amongst Member States, and a substantial amount of cash. Ministers asked the Commission to work on liquidity and a balance of interest between consumers and operators as a matter of priority. According to POLITICO, the Commission estimates that the pandemic will cost hotels and restaurants up to half their revenue, while travel agencies will lose up to 70%. Airlines are those hit the hardest, with projected loss in earnings of 90%, on par with cruise firms.
European Medicines Agency (EMA)
- The EMA has joined a call of the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA) urging for more international unity and collaboration in the fight against COVID-19. The statement, signed by 29 authorities, asked for researchers and governments to prioritise large and well-designed clinical trials to ensure that treatments against the virus are founded on robust data. The group also stresses the need for equitable access to vaccines and therapies.
European Parliament (EP)
- The EP is planning to introduce mandatory rules for MEPs and staff including wearing community masks and checking their temperature before entering the Parliament’s buildings. The rules are part of a plan drawn up by Klaus Welle, the institution’s Secretary-General, designed to ease restrictions. The measures have been approved by President Sassoli and senior MEPs. Further details include that only one accredited assistant per MEP may be working in-office, and that those who can should continue teleworking (source: POLITICO).
Court of Justice of the European Union
- Judges are returning to the benches. The Court announced it would resume public hearings at both courts by 25th May if the situation allows. The step will be accompanied by the implementation of hygiene and social distancing protocols, and representatives of the parties concerned will receive detailed guidelines.
(Former) Member States
- Capped PPE prices across Member States: A number of countries have decided to cap the maximum price for equipment such as masks, as well as sanitisers. In Spain, masks are capped at €0.96 a piece, and hand sanitisers at 2.10€ per 100ml. Italy is thinking about capping masks at a similar rate, and France sought to limit the price of sanitisers in March already, while lawmakers are working to reduce taxes on masks to keep prices low.
- France: The French government has announced that it will tighten its investment screening rules for the biotech sector. Following the move, authorities will be able to intervene in investments that transfer 10% or more of shares to foreign investors, down from the previous 20% threshold. The rule will be in place until the end of 2020. According to French finance minister Bruno LeMaire, it was “imperative” to protect biotechnology (source: POLITICO).
- United Kingdom: The UK has offered a visa extension to 3.000 NHS healthcare workers fighting on the frontlines of the pandemic. Home Secretary Patel announced the step on Wednesday, 29th Eligible applicants will not have to pay for the visa process, and NHS workers with an unresolved case will be reimbursed (source: POLITICO).
- WTO and IMF: On 24th April, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and WTO Director-General Roberto Azvedo issued a joint statement asking governments to refrain from export and trade restrictions on food and key medical supplies, and to lift those in place since the beginning of the year. Last year, the statement reads, trade in crucial medical equipment has made for USD300 bn, which underlines the importance of free-flowing trade. Export restriction, in turn, could prolong and exacerbate the current health crisis.
Tackling the Virus
- According to the European Public Health Alliance, the EU’s drug shortage is getting worse and is now affecting those medicines used to treat COVID-19 The EPHA has consequently published a number of recommendations to increase European coordination and initiatives to fight the virus, reiterating the Commission’s mantra that “no country is able to tackle the situation alone”.
Dealing with data
- The Council of Europe has issued guidelines on Digital Contact Tracing. According to the publication, systems put in place should rely on the processing and storing of data on mobile devices as much as possible. The Commission and Parliament have advised using decentralised designs that store data on devices rather than in the cloud, but the European Data Protection Authority has given both systems a green light – although slightly favouring decentralisation.
- The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) held its 24th plenary session on 24th April, adopting various letters. One of them, to the U.S. Mission to the EU, answered an inquiry of the U.S. as to whether it was possible to derogate from the GDPR to enable international data flows. The EDPB answered decisively that the GDPR was allowing for collaboration between European and non-European scientists in the search of a vaccine and treatment of COVID-19, but also reiterated that this would happen without the erosion of fundamental data protection rights in Europe.
- The Croatian Council Presidency has drafted a paper that foresees a discussion of telco ministers on the requirements for tracing technology developed by Google and Apple, scheduled for 5th May. Croatia asks the Council whether Members wish to take a common route or contract tracing and warning applications, to make sure they are interoperable across the EU and effectively minimise the processing of personal data (source : POLITICO).
- The Commission has set up a mechanism to coordinate antibody studies conducted by Member States. Antibody studies are serological (using blood) studies that can show whether a person has been infected with the virus or developed immunity. Several Member States have begun testing certain groups. According to the Health Security Committee, the aim of the coordination mechanism is to share experiences and results and identify technical needs of countries to implement such studies.
- The WHO has warned that no evidence existed proving that patients who had recovered from the virus were immune to a second infection. In a scientific brief, the organisation said that if antibody tests were used as a basis for allowing people back to work, this might increase the risk of continued transmission.
- Finally, a Marshall Plan? Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni has suggested that a €1.5 trillion recovery fund should be available by mid-September. According to the Commissioner, Europe cannot wait two years like at the end of the second world war. Instead, a timely fund should include loans as well as grants, says Gentiloni.
- The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has announced €21 billion in financing through 2021, dedicated to help the economies of the 38 countries it is investing in to combat the crisis triggered by COVID-19. The bank is detailing its programme in the corresponding announcement.
- State aid: Since this newsletter was published last, the Commission approved a number of Member State state aid applications under conventional procedures as well as the temporary framework for state aid. Below is an overview, and here are all the details.
- Sweden: €38 million to cancelled or postponed cultural events.
- Germany: €550 million to airline Condor for COVID-19 losses; umbrella scheme for R&D and production of COVID-19 related products.
- France: guarantee scheme for exporting companies.
- Slovenia: €2 billion umbrella scheme to support the economy.
- Lithuania: €5 million for SMEs in road freight transport.
- Spain: second umbrella scheme to support the economy.
- The Netherlands: €100 million subsidised loans to SMEs.
- Belgium: €200.000 to agri- and aquaculture in the Brussels region; €4 million for COVID-19 R&D.
- Finland: €3 billion to support companies.
- Poland: €700 million to support companies; €16.6 repayable advance scheme.
- Malta: €215 million employment aid scheme.
- Estonia: two additional schemes to support companies.
- Hungary: €1.55 billion guarantee scheme to support companies.
- Energy Security: Poland has warned EU diplomats that the pandemic might undermine energy security and endanger the transition to clean energy. This is as funds for investments in renewable energy sources become limited, reads a note authored by the Polish Climate Ministry. The paper also calls for additional financing and guarantees by the EU, as well as more flexible rules for existing grants and loans as to how they can be spent.
- To help laid-off workers and those who are currently not working, blueprint projects DRIVESand ALBATTS curated a listing of free online courses. Courses focus on automotive industry and e-mobility. They offer workers an opportunity to learn about new topics and upskill their competences through distance learning and home education.
- VW’s boss Herbert Diess has said the carmaker would try to overcome the crisis without applying for state aid but that at the same time, a stimulus package was needed to prop up demand. The automobile sector could be used as an engine to kick-start the economy and get consumers moving again. Two ideas are currently on the table: First, a state-funded premium programme for customers who get rid of their old vehicle and opt for a newer, more environmentally friendly model. The second alternative is a reduction of VAT on vehicles to lower prices. On 5th May, Chancellor Merkel of Germany will meet with sector leaders to brainstorm on next steps (source: POLITICO).