The European Union response to COVID-19

24/04/2020 15:13

This note provides an overview on the EU competences in public health matters and the activities of its institutions in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Composed of sovereign states the EU plays a subsidiary role. IN the future there may be room for more and better coordination in dealing with epidemics.



I. EU competence and actors in public health
a. Public health remains a perfectly intergovernmental competence. Art 168 TFEU (Treaty of the functioning of the European Union) stipulates supportive action. However the “open coordination method” has proven to be fairly inefficient and until the outbreak of the current crisis ministers for public health met only once a year informally.
b. € 63M public health action program (serious cross-border health threats)
c. Actors: Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) (annual budget € 57 million), European Food Safety Authority (€ 105 million), European Medicines Agency (€ 34 million)
d. Important disparities between Member States on health spending (varying from 2.7% of GDP to 8.3% of GDP)
e. Europe's dependence on medicines and sanitary equipment from third countries and especially China and India


II. Chronology of EU activities: from every man for himself to the frenzy that transcends the ‘doxa’

13/2 1st extraordinary meeting of Health Ministers
2/3 ECDC declares risk of virus transmission goes from moderate to high
6/3 2nd extraordinary meeting of Health Ministers
10/3 1st videoconference of the European Council but the next day several governments follow their national strategy and close their national borders
12/3 ECDC publishes an alarming risk assessment (for the WHO “Europe is becoming the epicentre of the epidemic”)
17/3 European Commission finally sets up a specialized scientific council for COVID-19
17/3 2nd videoconference of the European Council. Agreement on closing the external borders, but the "philosophies” in dealing with virus diverge widely
19/3 European Commission relaxes ‘state aid’ scheme
19/3 European Central Bank launches its programme for the purchase of government debt (up to 750 billion euros)
20/3 Commission creates “RescEU stockpile”:
• a strategic stockpile for medical equipment such as, ventilators and protective masks
• and launches a European tender for the purchase of equipment (on the basis of voluntary
contributions from member states)
20/3 European Commission triggers derogation clause from the Stability and Growth Pact
25/3 European Commission publishes guidelines for preserving assets deemed "essential for our security and public order"
26/3 3rd videoconference of the European Council with Joint Declaration:
• proper functioning of the single market,
• urgency to provide medical equipment,
• promotion of research
• and need for a roadmap for a coordinated exit strategy and economic recovery plan
30/3 European Commission publishes recommendations to strengthen the resilience of European health systems
9/4 Ministers of Finance agree on
• “safety net” of 540 billon €: ESM (European Stability Mechanism) loans of 240 billion €
for health sector;
• support for the Commission proposal for SURE to help via loans and with up to 100
billion € to the national short time work schemes;
• approval an European Investment Bank (EIB) loan guarantees to companies for 200
billion. Division on scope and modalities of recovery plan
16/4 European Commission publishes minimum requirements for the use of mobile tracking apps
21/4 Commission proposes to organize a European summit on tourism (less than 50% for hotels and restaurants in 2020, minus 90% for cruise passengers and airlines) with two objectives: emergency aid and overhaul of the sector
23/4 4th videoconference of the European Council:
• validating the roadmap for the recovery plan and a gradual and coordinated exit strategy;
• agreement on framework for the creation of a new financial facility (possibly around 1000 billion €): raising debt via European budget (more important! 2% of GNI instead of 1.2% GNI) allows important leverage effects for stimulus, which will be distributed according to a
Commission mapping (sectors and regions).
• The question of the modalities of the recovery plan remains unresolved: grants or loans to member states or both?


End of 2020 Presentation by the Commission of a new European pharmaceutical strategy (80% of the ingredients of medicines and 40% of the medicines come from China and India. 60% of the world production of vaccines is done in India)


• Negotiations with UK on Brexit are stopped,
• European Green Deal calendar is differed (while air pollution, deforestation and biodiversity degradation favor the emergence and spread of viruses) and
• … no one is talking about the conference on the future of Europe any more


Stefan Lunte, secretary-general JP Europe

24 April 2020