In this section you will find the latest news on what the EU is doing to address the Coronavirus crisis. The page is updated continuously. Please find below the latest news.
10 September 2020
This week in Brussels
Von der Leyen nominates McGuinness to replace Hogan as Ireland’s next European Commissioner
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Tuesday the nomination of Mairead McGuinness as the new Irish Commissioner. Her nomination follows the resignation of Phil Hogan after the ‘golf gate’ scandal, in which Hogan broke COVID-19 restrictions in his home country during a visit. McGuinness will assume the financial services portfolio formerly overseen by the Latvian Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis. Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis will take over the trade portfolio from Hogan. McGuinness was Vice-President of the European Parliament and is considered one of the most experienced candidates for Ireland. She will still need to withstand a hearing in the European Parliament before taking over as Commissioner.
European Commission unveils policy agenda for fall 2020
This week, the Commission published the College of Commissioners agenda for the upcoming months. The proposed publication dates reveal that the Commission, despite the COVID-19 setback, will continue its work on many of its key initiatives, attempting to avoid delays. Please note that the dates mentioned below are indicative. Should any issues arise during the College meetings, publication may be delayed.
Next week, the Commission is expected to publish a Communication to increase the EU’s climate objectives for 2030, following final approval in a meeting of the College. On 14 October, Executive Vice-President Timmermans is expected to present several of his flagship initiatives under the Green Deal, including the ‘renovation wave’ initiative, the offshore renewable energy strategy, the methane strategy, the chemicals strategy for sustainability, and the Energy State of the Union Report.
In the field of digitalization, the Commission will present a Digital Package next week, which will include a Regulation on High Performing Computing and a Recommendation on Connectivity. On 30 September, Executive Vice-President Vestager will present the Digital Education Action Plan. In October, this will be followed by the proposal for a Directive on data governance and the publication on the Action Plan on FinTech, scheduled for respectively 14 and 28 October.
Initiatives at EU level
- On 10 September, the European Commission presented the first baseline reports on the actions taken by the signatories of the Code to fight false and misleading COVID-19-related information until 31 July. The monitoring and reporting program is a transparency measure to ensure accountability towards the public of the efforts made by platforms and relevant industry associations to limit online disinformation related to COVID-19;
- On 9 September, the European Commission published its first-ever Strategic Foresight Report, which aims to identify emerging challenges and opportunities to better steer the European Union’s strategic choices. Findings from the report will feed into Ursula von der Leyen’s State of the Union next week and the next Commission work program;
- On 4 September, the Commission published a proposal for a Council Recommendation that aims to ensure that any measures taken by Member States restricting free movement due to COVID-19 are coordinated and clearly communicated at the EU level. Areas where more coordination is required include the development and classification of common criteria using a color code, the development of a common framework for measures applied to travelers from high-risk areas, and clear and timely information to the public about any restrictions. This initiative follows an initiative from the German Presidency from last week to harmonize divergent COVID-19 measures applied throughout the EU;
- Data from Eurostat show that during the second quarter of 2020, GDP in the EU fell by 11.4% and employment decreased by 2.7%;
- European Council President Charles Michel spoke at the Brussels Economic Forum about the economic recovery from COVID-19. Looking back on the July deal on the MFF and the recovery fund, Michel stated that the recovery plan is not a three- or seven-year strategy, but it’s a thirty-year strategy that shows Europe is ready to act to transform its economic and social model.
03 September 2020
This week in Brussels
German Presidency aims to harmonize diverging border measures
In order to anticipate on a potential second COVID-19 wave, the incumbent German Presidency wants to enhance coordination and harmonization of the diverging border measures and travel rules. Currently, quarantine rules, risk areas and test requirements vary greatly among Member States (e.g. Hungary deciding to close its borders again from 1 September). The German Presidency opts for a unified approach regarding travel restrictions to facilitate intra-EU travel.
The German Presidency presented a discussion paper, currently being reviewed by EU Member States, which insists on the creation of an EU-wide list of risk areas based on joint criteria and data. Internal Market Commissioner Breton responded to the German plan adding that the Commission will soon present a document foreseeing to create “the same measurement tool” on which travel restrictions decisions can be based. Member States remain in charge of border restrictions, but a clear guidance instrument could lead to more streamlined travel measures throughout the EU.
European Parliament continues work on COVID-19 related files
As the political recess is officially over, several parliamentary committees have continued discussions on the different aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Wednesday, the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) exchanged views with the German Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz to discuss economic measures introduced in response to COVID-19. On the same day, the Transport & Tourism Committee (TRAN) discussed measures for a sustainable rail market as well as the impact of COVID-19 on European air traffic. In the field of health, the Committee on Environment, Health and Food Safety (ENVI) discussed the conclusions of a risk-assessment report of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to find a way forward to minimize the risk of a second COVID-19 wave.
Initiatives at EU level
- Commissioner for Justice Reynders and Commissioner for Home Affairs Johansson have sent a letter to the Hungarian government in which they reiterate “the importance of the integrity of the Schengen area and of applying borders measures in a non-discriminatory way to all EU citizens and residents”, Johansson writes on her Twitter account. The letter follows Hungarian policy allowing Czech citizens to enter the country, while other European citizens were not;
- Hungary has threatened to block an agreement on an Own Resources Decision, a legal requirement to set up the Recovery Fund backed by Member States’ guarantees, as long as rule of law criteria are not finalized;
- On 31 August, the European Commission announced its interest to participate in the COVAX Facility for equitable access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. The Commission also announced a contribution of €400 million in guarantees to support COVAX and its objectives as part of the Coronavirus Global Response;
- Following the resignation of Irish Trade Commissioner Hogan, Von der Leyen and Ireland are looking for a new Commissioner. Simon Coveney, currently occupying a double post in the Irish government on Defense and Foreign affairs, was dubbed as his successor but reportedly out of the race. This clears the way for Irish MEP Maireád McGuinness, currently a Vice-President of the European Parliament, to be nominated as successor of Hogan.
27 August 2020
This weekly news update summarizes and analyzes the latest developments and measures in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.
This week in Brussels
EU budget negotiations set to continue
Following the political agreement of EU leaders in late July on the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework and recovery package, the EU institutions have now entered a phase of technical negotiations to find agreement on outstanding issues. Following the political agreement, the European Parliament passed a resolution voicing criticism of the EU budget deal in its current form. The Parliament expressed concern about the allocated amount of funding for research and health funds and demanded a greater role in the management of the €750 billion recovery fund. In addition, the leaders of four political groups increased pressure on 26 August by warning that they would not sign the next EU budget unless there is a clear agreement on linking EU funds to the rule of law.
On 27 August, the German Presidency of the Council of the EU, the Parliament’s negotiating team and Budget Commissioner Hahn met for a first round of talks, with further negotiations scheduled to continue in the course of September. This will most likely pave the way for EU leaders to further discuss the EU budget during the next European Council summit on 24-25 September in an effort to secure an interinstitutional deal. In case of a provisional agreement between the European Council and the European Parliament, national parliaments will also have to give their approval to the proposal. The new EU budget should be operational as of 1 January 2021.
EU’s Trade Commissioner Hogan resigns over ‘Golfgate’
EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan has resigned following controversy surrounding his visit to a golfing dinner in Ireland. The EU’s Trade chief broke COVID-19 related restrictions in his home country to attend the dinner, and initially refused to apologize for his actions. His resignation means that von der Leyen loses one of her most experienced Commissioners from one of the EU’s most influential posts. Given the fact that an experienced politician will be needed for the job of Trade Commissioner, von der Leyen might consider reshuffling the portfolios of her whole College in case Ireland is unable to propose a capable nominee for the position. Should a reshuffle be the choice of action, a more protectionist Trade Commissioner could be appointed, changing the geopolitical dynamics between the EU, China and the US.
Initiatives at EU level
- On 14 August, the European Commission reached a first agreement on a potential vaccine with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Once the vaccine has proven to be safe and effective against COVID-19, the Commission now has agreed the basis for a contractual framework for the purchase of 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with an option to purchase 100 million more, on behalf of EU Member States;
- The Commission will support 23 new research projects with €128 million in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding under Horizon 2020 is part of the Commission’s €1.4 billion pledge to the Coronavirus Global Response initiative;
- On 14 August the Commission approved an Irish loan guarantee scheme mobilizing €2 billion support for companies affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.