COVID-19, A VIEW FROM THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION. HUMANE?

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Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presenting her views at the European Parliament.

 

 

President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary on the European
coordinated response to the COVID-19 outbreak
26 March 2020, Brussels

Excerpts*

 

We must look out for each other. None of us can do it alone.

 

In the blink of an eye, a virus that started on the other side of the world has become a deadly pandemic with tragic consequences in Europe. Our lifestyles changed. Our streets emptied. Our doors closed. And we went from business as usual to the fight of our lives. We have seen the fragility of life[,] tragedy on a scale unimaginable even just a few short weeks ago in the heart of Europe.

TRIBUTE

I want to pay tribute to the women and men leading that fight. I think of the nurses, doctors and care workers in Italy, Spain and across Europe who ran towards the fire without any second thought. The heroes who are putting everything on the line to save our parents, our grandparents, friends and colleagues, neighbours and strangers.

Europe owes you all a debt of gratitude.

To the shelf-stackers and the bin collectors. The undertakers and the teachers. The truck drivers and the cleaners. The factory workers and the bread makers. To all those who are helping to keep our world moving.

Europe owes you all a debt of gratitude.

FAIR-WEATHER UNION

We must look out for each other, we must pull each other through this.

None of us can do it alone and certainly no Member State can handle this crisis on their own. In this crisis, it is only by helping each other that we can help ourselves.

But when Europe really needed an ‘all for one’ spirit, too many initially gave an ‘only for me’ response.

“When Europe needed to prove that this is not only a ‘fair weather Union’, too many initially refused to share their umbrella.”

And when Europe really needed to prove that this is not only a ‘fair weather Union’, too many initially refused to share their umbrella.

But it was not long before some felt the consequences of their own uncoordinated action. This is why over the last few weeks we took exceptional and extraordinary measures to coordinate and enable the action that is needed.

Since then, things are improving and Member States are starting to help each other – to help themselves.

We are lucky to have the best health care professionals in the world. From Milan to Madrid and beyond, they are producing miracles every single day. But as we have seen – both there and elsewhere – the scale of the [COVID-19] outbreak is stretching them to the breaking point.

This is why we had to take matters into our own hands as far as we could to release these blockades.

This is why we are creating the first ever European stockpile of medical equipment, such as ventilators, masks and lab supplies. The Commission will finance 90% of this stockpile through RescEU.

And there is good news: since Tuesday, we know that their demands for masks, gloves, goggles, face-shields can be matched by the producers. The first deliveries should start in the coming weeks.

 

THE SINGLE MARKET

And because knowledge saves lives in a pandemic, we set up a European team of experts to help us come up with coordinated measures that we all can follow. We will need to draw on all that makes us strong to get through this together and then to get back on our feet.

The European Single Market: Countries in dark blue are EU Member States. Light blue are non-EU which participate in the Single Market via the EEA or bilateral treaties with the EU. Total poplulation: 515 million. GDP 2018: US$20 trillion. “The free movement of goods and services is the EU’s greatest asset” in the COVID-19 crisis.

And we have no stronger asset for this than our unique Single Market. A crisis without borders cannot be resolved by putting barriers between us. And yet, this is exactly the first reflex that many European countries had. This simply makes no sense because there is not one single Member State that can meet its own needs when it comes to vital medical supplies and equipment.

The free movement of goods and services is therefore our strongest, and frankly, our only asset to ensure supplies can go where they are needed most. It makes no sense that some countries unilaterally decided to stop exports to others in the Internal Market.

And this is why the Commission intervened when a number of countries blocked exports of protective equipment to Italy.

Hauler leaving the Danish city of Aarhus: Movement of goods is “functioning better”.

Our coordinated approach is now bearing fruit. The Internal Market is already functioning better.

And we all welcome the news that hospitals in Saxony took patients from Lombardy, while others from the ‘Grand Est’ in France are now being treated in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

PEOPLE OF EUROPE ARE WATCHING

The people of Europe are watching what happens next. They are thinking about what job they will have to go back to, what will happen to their business and to their employers, to their savings and their mortgages. They will worry about their parents, their neighbours, their local community. They will know that their governments had to make difficult decisions to save lives.

But they will also remember who was there for them – and who was not; those that acted – and those who did not. And they will remember the decisions that we take today – or those we will not.

 

EUROPEAN COMMISSION INITIATIVES

We launched the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative to help direct EUR 37 billion to mitigate the impact of the crisis, to save lives, jobs and businesses.

This is why we adopted the most flexible ever temporary rules on state aid to enable Member States to give a lifeline to their businesses. The first cases were approved in record time, within a matter of hours.

It took the coronavirus to activate the escape clause of the Stability and Growth Pact which obliges EU member-states to tighten their belts during economic downturns, just as when Europeans lose their jobs and an expansionist program would ease their suffering. Photo shows protest poster against EU’s austerity pact during the social disburbances in France in 2012-2013 which failed to elicit sympathetic response from Brussels.

And this is why, for the first time in our history, we have activated the general escape clause in the Stability and Growth Pact. That means that Member States can use all the firepower they have to support those in work or those out of work, to support businesses small and big, and to support people through these tough times.

That is the Europe that people must remember on the day after.

A Europe that works at top speed when it feels as though the whole world has pressed pause. A Europe that is there for its people and Member States when they need it most.  A Europe that has empathy and puts compassion above all else. A Europe that in times of need is both resilient and selfless.

Let’s be mindful that the decisions we take today will shape the foundations of our European Union of tomorrow.

We are standing at a fork in the road: will this virus permanently divide us into rich and poor? Into the haves and the have-nots? Or will we become a strong continent, a player to be reckoned with in this world? Can we even emerge stronger and better from this? Can our communities be closer in the face of adversity? Can our democracies be greater?

Looking at the many acts of kindness, goodwill and human decency throughout Europe, we have every reason to be optimistic about the future. Europe has everything it needs, and we are ready to do whatever it takes to overcome this crisis.

Lang lebe Europa! Vive l’Europe! Long live Europe!

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*Speech by President van der Leyen, CC BY4.0.Underscoring and subdivision of text supplied.  For the unabridged speech, please click here.

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Images
Featured image (Ursula von der Leyen, July 2019)/European Parliament, CC BY4.0
Healthcare workers vector/European Commission, Fair use
Umbrella/Adam Tinworth, CC BY-ND2.0
Single Market map/Rob984, CC BY-SA4.0

Hauler truck/Lav Ulv, CC BY2.0
Anti-austerity protest/Jeanne Menjoulet, CC BY-ND2.0