By Gerry Kiely
Ireland, Europe and the world are living through an unprecedented crisis. We are facing an invisible enemy and a daunting common challenge. If there is one clear lesson from the past weeks, it is that the more closely and effectively we work together in Europe, the quicker we will defeat coronavirus. Joint action saves lives, limits the economic damage and prepares us for as rapid a recovery as possible. The European Commission is pulling out all the stops to achieve this.
While national governments are in the driving seat in taking immediate action within their own countries to address the pandemic, the EU has a big role to play in helping governments to coordinate their policies. For example, when some Member States closed their borders in mid-March in their initial response to the crisis, the European Commission stepped in to establish ‘green lanes’ to keep goods flowing, supermarket shelves stocked and vital components reaching factories.
The EU has done a lot more to address the wide-ranging challenges posed by COVID-19. Just before Easter, EU finance ministers agreed a €540 billion package to support member states, companies and workers hit by the crisis. The Commission made the state aid rules more flexible than ever before so that businesses big and small can get the support they need. The budgetary rules were relaxed to allow national and EU spending to go quickly to those that need it. This has enabled EU institutions and Member States put up €2.8 trillion to fight the crisis – the strongest response anywhere in the world.
Through an initiative called SURE, the EU is working to ensure that people can keep their jobs and their incomes and businesses stay afloat while we are in lockdown. The scheme will provide €100 billion to help governments make up the difference if a company, especially SMEs, has had to reduce hours for its employees.
Since the early days of the crisis, the Commission is deeply concerned with ensuring food security and an effective food supply chain across the continent. The Commission adopted quick measures in support of the agri-food sector – increasing the level of advance payments under the CAP and the admissible support for individual farms and providing new lines for financing of food producing and food processing companies.
Ultimately, the development, production and deployment of a vaccine is vital in the COVID-19 battle. The Commission has therefore reoriented existing research priorities and is making new funding available to this end. It has mobilised €140 million to finance vaccine research, making € 80 million available to Cure Vac, a global leader in this field. Seventeen other vaccine-related projects are being supporting, including Dublin-based Hibergene Diagnostics.
The Commission prepared a common tender for EU Member States to help secure equipment to protect frontline health care workers and provide their patients with the best possible care under the circumstances. As we all know, frontline workers sacrifice the most in our fight against the coronavirus, including healthcare workers caring for patients, and all workers who contribute to combating the spread of the virus and keeping essential services running. We owe them all our most sincere thanks.
Gerry Kiely is Head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland