We are all in the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented,
but at the same time important and needed,
all of us called to row together
(Pope Francis, 27/3/2020)
Europe is under enormous threat and Europeans are suffering. Everybody feels the uncertainty that the Coronavirus has created, the danger for those at risk or the grief for the lives lost. Europe can only pull through this crisis if the European family stands together in solidarity and responsibility. We Europeans have been through tough times together. We will get through this too.
To respond to the extraordinary and serious situation caused by COVID-19, the EPP Group in the European Parliament proposes a SOLIDARITY PACT consisting of immediate measures to beat the virus, help those affected, protect our families, workers and the most vulnerable, support our businesses and provide for a long-term plan to strengthen Europe’s response to such crises in the future.
This Pact starts with thinking of each other. Trusting each other. Taking care of each other. Solidarity is part of our DNA as Europeans.
The EPP Group wants to thank, first and foremost, all those on the frontline fighting the virus: doctors and nurses, carers and cleaners, food producers and shop-keepers, transport and postal workers, members of the police and the armed forces, and their families. Yet, we all have a role to play. By looking out for each other. By staying at home or keeping our distance to protect vulnerable people. We cannot overcome this crisis by acting on our own. Nor by pitting national competences against European competences. We can only overcome it if we work together. All of us are now called upon to row together.
Our Solidarity Pact rests on five concrete action pillars. We propose to:
1. FOCUS on a united response to the health challenge NOW
Healthcare systems and hospitals are stretched to the limit. The EU should stand ready to organise solidarity between Member States wherever possible. We want to:
- Establish an EU Medical Response Coordination Unit, functioning as an information and coordination hub - including for the joint procurement of medicine, equipment and protective gear - as well as an emergency response team able to deliver vital supplies, medical equipment as well as medical staff to Member States experiencing a sudden surge in infections;
- This Coordination Unit should also operate as a contact point with a real-time database of available beds in Intensive Care Units and co-ordinate, where appropriate, the cross-border transfer of critically-ill patients to hospitals in other Member States which still have treatment capacities. Where needed, military forces should provide logistic support and assist regional authorities and the emergency services with setting up field hospitals, providing airlift capacities, as may be necessary (potentially using the European Air Transport Command and existing NATO structures). We welcome the guidelines published by the European Commission in this respect as well as the financial support given and urge all Member States to participate as much as they can;
- Reject all national bans on the export of medicine and medical equipment to other EU Member States; the European Commission should explore all ways to prevent national measures from altering the correct functioning of the Single Market and co-ordinate the re-purposing of manufacturing capacity for the production of these products, notably sanitising gel, ventilators and protective equipment, as well as to pool and coordinate digital manufacturing capabilities such as 3D printing, which can contribute to manufacturing necessary equipment. EU and national authorities need to release for a limited period of time, the patents and IPR related to medical ventilator designs and for medicines that have a shortage of supply. We strongly support a prolongation of the transition period of the Medical Device Regulation to focus all efforts on the production of material;
- Intensify EU medical research to enable speedy results from research on a vaccine as well as treatment against the Coronavirus. The European Medicines Agency should fast-track procedures for testing and approving COVID-19-related medicine or vaccines whereas the Coordination Unit should coordinate the availability of vaccine production sites to ensure that once available, hundreds of millions of vaccines can be produced in a short period of time and made available at a fair price, taking into account the public investment in this research;
- Ensure that Member States pay sufficient attention to the mental health implications of the crisis and organise an EU-wide mental health campaign, advising citizens on how to safeguard mental well-being under these new circumstances and informing them where to seek advice when needed;
- Guarantee the safety and protection of the most vulnerable, especially people with disabilities, children, the elderly and those at risk of suffering domestic violence, including by providing alternative shelters during periods of lockdown;
- Call on Member States to pay particular attention to disadvantaged communities, national minorities, and in particular the Roma, when devising strategies for the fight against COVID-19;
- Calls for the activation of the European Solidarity Corps for the support of our societies as soon as movement restrictions are lifted, and for the mandate of the EU Aid Volunteers to be broadened to enable them to operate on EU territory;
- Deploy an EU-supported action to test and provide medical support to the migrants and refugees located at the external borders of the EU, particularly in Greece;
- The EU must show solidarity with our partners around the world and in particular with the countries of the Western Balkans and the Eastern Neighbourhood as well as the African continent and Latin America, and support them in their efforts to combat the virus. The EU must provide support to our partners, including diplomatic support, like in the case of Taiwan which has successfully mitigated the effects of the virus. We believe therefore that all parties concerned, including Taiwan, should be incorporated into WHO meetings, mechanisms and activities, particularly during the global public health crisis.
2. FLATTEN the curve NOW...in a coordinated way
In the absence of effective medication or a vaccine, the immediate fight against the spread of the virus builds on limiting social contacts. In this context, we want to:
- Coordinate at European level the suspension of flights, issuing of travel advice and closure of internal and external borders. Internal border controls, although only needed as a contingency measure, must remain strictly time-limited, proportionate and used only for the period deemed necessary by the responsible health authorities. We must preserve the Schengen area at all times;
- Establish safe travel routes for EU citizens or residents returning back to the EU from abroad, including a harmonised approach to testing and quarantine upon entry. The joint repatriation of EU citizens should be coordinated by the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism and the EEAS should be strengthened;
- Ensure Priority Lanes at all internal EU borders to secure the free flow of help such as medical professionals, agricultural seasonal workers and medical supplies where they are needed as well as the flow of essential items like food, agricultural inputs and other goods in the Single Market and keep the supply chains open. Interruption in the trade and flow of goods must be minimal;
- Restrictions on movement must be established and lifted around the most affected areas in a coordinated manner to avoid negative cross-border effects. We want the European Commission to start work on an effective exit strategy which can be implemented when we have assurance that the curve has been flattened so as not to overload our healthcare system. This exit strategy could include large-scale testing, personal protective equipment for all health and sanitary workers and social distancing in relevant areas, as well as the possible use of apps. We also call on the European Commission to develop a common EU testing protocol which should be implemented in a joint, coordinated and sequenced manner including testing at airports;
- The European Commission should enhance its communication to the general public and provide a regular update at least once per week on the common European response to the outbreak of COVID-19. This regular update should be presented to European citizens in an easily accessible and visible manner through channels such as public service broadcasters and preferably at the same time;
- Give special regard to border regions in view of allowing frontier workers to continue crossing borders, for example by means of a special certificate or vignette for priority professionals like health workers but also for other sectors and professions, ultimately working towards a harmonised system. Encourage Member States to coordinate social and fiscal legislation in order to avoid a switch in social security and fiscal systems for cross-border workers as a result of emergency measures such as working from home, and to coordinate their income support policies to ensure that all cross-border workers and SMEs and self-employed persons operating across borders are included;
- Support plans to create an EU research data platform as well as an EU Data Centre for Emergency Coordination able to help the EU collect data and for clinical uptake, to identify behavioural patterns, flows of people and vital products and run predictive analytics. Developing common EU standards for data collection and analysis to achieve a common data pool is crucial;
- We urge the use of AI, data analytics and other supercomputing tools to analyse data necessary for fighting the spread of the virus. Research and development in these areas is crucial in order to improve existing technologies;
- Use the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in an appropriate manner to address the emergency for a limited period of time. Medical state authorities should have access to anonymised EU-wide data of movements to keep the pandemic at bay and use AI to analyse data necessary for fighting the spread of the virus. We support the development of a mapping platform to be financed through Horizon and using existing technologies such as GALILEO for future crises;
- Calls on the European Commission to ensure that, also during the exceptional times of the COVID-19 crisis, all measures taken at national and/or European level must be in line with the rule of law, strictly proportionate to the exigencies of the situation, clearly connected to the ongoing health crisis, limited in time and subject to regular scrutiny.
3. SECURE our critical infrastructure NOW
The current extraordinary circumstances underline the importance of key infrastructures and strategic sectors. We therefore want to:
- Establish a contingency plan for critical infrastructure which must include the unhindered functioning of digital services, health and care facilities, energy, and food supply within the entire Single Market;
- In light of the fundamental importance of the EU agri-food sector, we underline the importance of the Common Agricultural Policy and want to take the necessary measures to ensure the viability of farms and the fisheries sector and avoid the massive abandonment of production during the crisis, such as liquidity support via the timely (pre-)payment of direct and second pillar payments, flexibility in the management of aid schemes and in the submission of claims, market monitoring and crisis management (private storage, promotion measures and exceptional measures to allow the European Commission to propose additional market measures and time-limited derogations from competition law);
- Regarding agriculture and food production, take measures to ensure that sufficient personnel, including seasonal and cross-border workers, are in place to harvest produce, under the right conditions (health certificate, individual housing and entry requirements etc);
- Workers in the transport sector must be among the priority groups to be protected, among others, by having access to sanitising gel and safe parking areas where food and toilets and showers with appropriate sanitary standards remain available;
- Introduce a crisis-management mechanism in the transport sector, notably in relation to the transport and supply of protection material and precious commodities;
- Launch a European Health Autonomy Action Plan to produce and store in sufficient numbers critical medicine and pharmaceutical products as well as key medical equipment such as masks or ventilators, such as not to be largely dependent on outside suppliers, while strengthening global supply chains, including joint procurement for strategic materials. The European Commission should launch a proposal for a centralised purchasing system for basic sanitary equipment allowing countries to be prepared in exceptional emergency situations;
- Extraordinary measures should be matched with intensified communication between governments and parliaments. Journalists and the political opposition must have unimpeded access to information and reasoning behind imposed solutions, and must be able to exercise their scrutiny. Transparency is key;
- Ensure that the digital sector takes the necessary measures to stop fake news, misinformation and hate speech regarding the Coronavirus crisis via social media, and protect independent media as the true guarantor of the right of people to be informed. The EU must also co-ordinate Member State action against third-country propaganda, internet fraudsters and cybercriminals exploiting people’s fears or selling overpriced or counterfeit medical material;
- Ensure that Erasmus+ students are able to resume their studies once the crisis ends. Ensure that all research and educational project deadlines are extended. We want to help EU researchers by reducing administrative burdens and ensuring the continuity of employment and programmes for researchers for an automatic six month extension.
4. HELP the most affected people, businesses and regions NOW
This crisis is not the fault of any Member State but the huge economic impact is being felt by everyone. We have a moral obligation to help and support those on the frontline. The first to suffer are the workers, employees, self-employed, family businesses and SMEs - the backbone of our societies and the European economy. What is at stake with the survival of SMEs and the Single Market is nothing less than the survival of the European economy.
Besides worrying about their health, people fear for their jobs and our aim is to prevent as many job losses as possible, together with the Member States. Particular attention must be paid to Member States who are hit the most and those who were still recovering from the financial crisis.
The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 shock requires immediate measures as well as an ambitious recovery plan, pushing the total EU and ECB pandemic response to over 1 trillion Euros and the combined European and Member State effort towards 3 trillion Euros, activating all existing tools to ensure financial solidarity and developing new commonly-funded financial instruments and sources of income which have sufficient size and long maturity to be fully efficient. It is in our common interest to show the greatest possible solidarity and responsibility. All 27 Member States and the EU should stand with the regions most in need.
To ensure a rapid operationalisation of the recovery plan, we propose to:
- Use all available means and unused money in the current EU budget, including the surplus and unspent margins and the Globalisation Adjustment Fund to deploy financial assistance quickly to the most affected regions and businesses, and allow for the greatest flexibility possible in the use of funds, while continuing to respect the principle of sound financial management and ensuring that funds reach those most in need. To this end, we welcome the recent European Commission proposal to create an Emergency Support Instrument;
- Put forward and reach agreement quickly on a new proposal on the next multiannual EU budget (MFF) which must be considerably higher to be a true instrument of solidarity and cohesion, reflect the right priorities and include sufficient margins for unforeseen events, including future pandemics, as well as a significant increase in investment-related and research items and measures to boost the relaunch after the crisis, including an ‘SME kick-start strategy’, a ‘New European Tourism Strategy’ and support for the culture and education sectors. Failing an agreement on the next MFF, we expect the European Commission to propose a contingency plan now to extend the duration of ongoing financing programmes beyond 31 December 2020, based on the current MFF and including a re-focusing of current programmes to address the situation created by the Coronavirus pandemic;
- Create an EU Coronavirus Solidarity Fund of at least 50 billion Euros consisting of up to 20 billion Euros outside the MFF ceilings in grants and up to 30 billion Euros in loans, guaranteed by the EU Budget, (both frontloaded in the first 2 years of the next MFF or, failing an agreement on the MFF in due time, spread over the contingency period), supporting the financial efforts undertaken by the healthcare sectors of all Member States during the current crisis, as well as investments in the healthcare sector in the post-crisis period in order to make healthcare systems more resilient but focusing on those most in need;
- Support the development of a new instrument or the new use of existing instruments in the Member States most hit economically, including through the appropriate and effective use of the ESM;
- Support the ECB and the European Commission in their determination to do ‘whatever it takes’ to help the European economy get out of this unprecedented crisis stronger than ever, in recognition of the fact that this crisis was not the fault of any Member State. Support the use of Article 122 of the Treaty on financial assistance to Member States in severe difficulties due to exceptional occurrences beyond its control, as well as the crisis-related use of maximum flexibility in the SGP, maintained while strictly necessary to respond to the crisis and willing to return to balanced and sustainable public accounts afterwards;
- Create a European system supporting state-supported part-time work, covering part of an employee’s wage loss due to reduced working time. Given the urgent need to protect jobs and wages while awaiting a future European Commission proposal on a possible European unemployment re-insurance scheme, we welcome its SURE proposal. This temporary instrument must be deployed quickly and effectively to the regions and Members States most affected;
- Address the urgent liquidity needs of our companies, notably SMEs and the self-employed, through an increase in the EIB’s equity and the establishment of a dedicated extraordinary EIB fund to provide liquidity to SMEs facing a temporary and dramatic drop in their revenues because of the crisis. Money drawn from this fund could be used to pay wages or debt obligations and would come with a very low or zero interest rate;
- Insist on a pro-active role of the banking sector in this crisis, allowing companies and citizens who are suffering financially as a result of COVID-19 to temporary lower or halt debt or mortgage repayments, providing maximum flexibility in the treatment of non-performing loans, temporarily suspending dividend payments and lowering the often excessive interest rates on current account overdrafts. Supervisors must demonstrate a high degree of flexibility to this end;
- Support SMEs through a COVID-19 screening of EU legislation and a clear reduction of red tape including regulatory action taken by EU agencies. Furthermore, it should be ensured that planned legislation does not create additional uncertainty during the crisis. We call in this regard for a postponement of the farm to fork and biodiversity strategies;
- Member States should pay all their outstanding bills to SMEs within 7 days in order to avoid a further cash squeeze for SMEs;
- Make state aid guidelines more flexible and increase the de-minimis support for agriculture and fisheries and additional EFSI funds;
- While avoiding general tax increases, demand a contribution from those who are gaining financially from this crisis, such as short-sellers, in the form of a considerable Solidarity Levy on speculative short-selling on financial markets. Revenues shall be used to support healthcare systems in the regions most in need;
- Keep key industries alive, such as utility companies, steel or the transport sector, supporting recapitalisation if needed, without distorting competition, and paying attention to the preservation of less frequented routes. Prevent key industries faced with a sudden fall in their stock price due to the crisis from hostile takeovers by competitors outside the EU;
- Take the necessary measures to guarantee the survival of the European air industry. The EU must react to the difficulties that this strategic sector is undergoing in terms of capitalisation, employment and its impact on other industries, such as tourism. While ensuring the survival of European airlines, consumers will be protected. A temporary revision of Regulation 261/2004 (which was not conceived for a crisis like COVID-19) would be a first step in this direction;
- Preserve Europe’s cultural diversity and heritage: artisans, musicians, creatives, and cultural industries have to be supported in this crisis where needed. Also support the tourism sector with adequate policies such as state aid and resources from the instruments available.
5. Plan NOW for the future
We need to learn the lessons of this unprecedented crisis. This goes beyond our immediate health response. Based on the Single Market, we want to relaunch our economy, strengthen our industry and SMEs, and embolden vulnerable sectors. To this end, we propose to:
- Establish a better European pandemic response. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) must be strengthened and turned into a fully-fledged European Health Agency, including its early-warning and response system, with a unique ECDC authority in each Member State and the scientific community to implement cross-border measures and coordinate a European pandemic response and the capacity to act as a coordinating centre for public health;
- Transfer the COVID-19 expert panel into a permanent independent expert team on virus outbreaks working with the ECDC to develop standards, make recommendations and develop protocols to be used by the European Commission and Member States in case of a similar crisis;
- Establish a dedicated EU fund to help Member States strengthen their hospital infrastructure and health services in the years to come, ensuring the highest standards of healthcare, treatment, research into Health Sciences and innovation. In this context, we call for the establishment of an EU Health Academy network as part of a European Global Health Plan, with at least one (university) hospital per Member State, serving as a national diffusion hub for European cutting-edge medical research and training. This EU Health Academy network should have mandatory and regular information-sharing, best practice learning and staff exchanges;
- Boost EU research and innovation, focusing on infectious diseases and related pandemics, also beyond the COVID-19 emergency. Furthermore, launch a new pharmaceutical strategy, translating inter alia the European Health Autonomy Action Plan into a permanent approach aimed at lowering the EU’s dependence on third countries for the provision of key medicines and medical material;
- Launch a new European industrial strategy which follows a forward-looking approach and takes account of the need to combine the recovery of industries most affected by the current situation and the necessity of climate neutrality;
- Create strategic reserves of material and commodities;
- Ensure the swift and full implementation of the Regulation on Foreign Direct Investment Screening, including the use of all available tools to the fullest extent, in particular in the health sector as a strategic sector, and propose a further strengthening if needed;
- Make full use of trade defence instruments and develop new tools if needed in order to address market-distorting practices of third countries;
- Adopt a European Travel and Tourism Strategy for Europe to remain the world’s preferred tourist destination;
- The current European Civil Protection Mechanism must evolve into a genuine European Civil Protection Force with its own human resources, easily mobilised, and ready to act on a permanent basis in any given emergency;
- Ask the European Commission to present a strategy on the healthcare impact of the thorough demographic change Europe is confronted with, building on the Report on the impact of demographic challenges, and to propose measures and recommendations to Member States to further develop robust healthcare systems, and to take into account the impact of depopulation in several regions and areas where vulnerable citizens feel left behind because of lacking care facilities and personnel;
- Introduce a European Carer’s Strategy in recognition of the social impacts associated with changes in and loss of employment, particularly for those with care responsibilities who are disproportionately women;
- In the future, the EU should develop a European Online Educational Platform for schools and universities to ensure that all schoolchildren and students in Member States have access to quality educational tools. The platform could also serve as a common resource centre for teachers, students and parents home-schooling across Europe, thus enhancing the overall quality of education in all Member States;
- Tackle the root causes of virus transmission from animal to humans, including the role of ‘wet markets’, also through increased co-operation at international level. Set up a permanent dialogue between the EU and China to assess reciprocity and compliance with standards to ensure a level playing-field, secure industrial supply chains and prevent future crises;
- We must not lose sight of the geopolitical consequences of the pandemic. The freezing of Western economies and the expected recession can accelerate the change of the global balance of power. Intensified geopolitical rivalries seem inevitable, possibly leading to a period of political chaos. This must be a wake-up call, and the EU must seize the moment by strengthening the rules-based international order and multilateralism. In this context, we call for the mobilisation of all external financing instruments, such as the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI), the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP), the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) and the European Development Fund (EDF) alongside the Humanitarian Aid instrument;
- Send the strong message that the EU is ready to engage with its citizens. In the current context, the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council should discuss and establish the format that would allow the Conference on the Future of Europe to start its work at the first opportunity. The format of the Conference should be reshaped to reflect the issues raised by the new context in which we are living;
- Support the eventual creation of a Special Committee of Inquiry into the lessons learned and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic including the social and economic impacts of the pandemic. Learning the lessons from this pandemic, ensure the European Parliament, as the only directly-elected Institution of the European Union, can remain fully functional, even in times of crisis.