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.
30 October 2020
Latest in Brussels
European Commission presents additional COVID-19 measures
On 28 October, the European Commission presented additional measures to help limit the spread of COVID-19 infections across Europe. Apart from measures aiming to improve vaccination campaigns and enhance contact tracing, the Commission introduced several measures to ensure the free flow of goods across borders. Most notably, the Commission proposed to extend the green lanes approach to ensure that multi-modal transport works effectively covering areas including rail, waterborne freight and air cargo.
Furthermore, the Commission secures essential medical supply chains via a new joint procurement of medical equipment for vaccination, and extends the temporary suspension of customs duties and VAT on medical equipment imports from non-EU countries.
Council of the EU and European Parliament reduce meetings amid COVID-19 surge in Europe
Amid a new surge of COVID-19 throughout Europe, meetings in the EU institutions face severe limitations. The German Presidency announced on 26 October that it will reduce physical expert meetings “to the absolute minimum”. These limitations of Council meetings will stay in place until further notice. Also the European Parliament decided to ban physical plenary sessions and cancelled almost all in-person meetings as a way to curb the spread of COVID-19. The limitation of physical meetings will last at least until the end of November.
Physical meetings can only take place in case of meetings that are necessary for the functioning of the EU or for the management of the COVID-19 crisis. The co-legislators’ negotiations on the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027 and the Recovery Fund is an example of such an essential topic. Regarding the budget negotiations, the German Presidency reports that albeit the rule of law is still one of the most controversial issues in the negotiations, negotiations are making rapid progress.
Initiatives at EU level
- The European Commission disbursed a total of €17 billion to Italy, Spain and Poland as part of the Commission unemployment instrument SURE. This is the first instalment of financial support to Member States under the program. Italy receives €10 billion, Spain €6 billion and Poland €1 billion. These long-term loans aim to support these hard-hit Member States in the preservation of employment in their economies;
- On 28 October, the European Commission published a proposal for a directive to ensure adequate minimum wages for workers in the EU. The Commission believes that a minimum wage for workers is important both during the COVID-19 crisis and during a later economic recovery;
- On 19 October, the European Commission published its Work Program for 2021. The Commission will update its new industrial strategy for Europe to include the lessons drawn from the COVID-19 crisis in the second quarter of 2021. In the same period, the Commission will introduce a new occupational safety and health strategy framework, addressing the challenges that emerged from the COVID-19 health crisis.
15 October 2020
Latest in Brussels
Member States agree on new travel guidelines, but fail to adopt a truly coordinated approach
On 13 October, the Council adopted a recommendation to facilitate free movement across Europe. Since March, free movement of travelers has been severely restricted due to national travel restrictions. Member States now agreed to provide weekly data to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which will publish a map sorting regions according to the severity of the virus, classified through a common color code (i.e. green, orange and red). Member States should introduce proportionate and non-discriminatory measures in accordance with the color representing the national epidemiological situation
Despite the new travel guidelines, the Council failed short of what it was supposed to deliver: to restart free movement of people and effectively end the travel restrictions through a coordinated approach. As a result, a lack of coordination and harmonized measures puts the survival of cross-border transport industry into jeopardy and risks millions of jobs in the transport sector.
During the 15-16 October European Council, European leaders will discuss the current epidemiological situation, overall COVID-19 coordination and the development of a vaccine at EU level.
EU institutions clash over rule-of-law conditionality in the EU budget
On 12 October, the EU institutions continued the trilogue negotiations on the rule-of-law mechanism as part of the next EU budget and Recovery Fund. The ‘Frugal Four’ (Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden) as well as the European Parliament demand strong rule-of-law conditions. Poland and Hungary are resisting now that the EU funds are likely to set stronger rule-of-law criteria, with Poland even mentioning a potential veto. Although it is not on the agenda, the stalemate in the EU budget negotiations will probably come up during the European Council meeting on 15-16 October.
European Commission extends Temporary State Aid Framework
Since a second wave of severe COVID-19 restrictions will also have economic repercussions, the European Commission decided on 13 October to prolong and extend the scope of the Temporary Framework for State Aid. The Temporary Framework is prolonged for six months until 30 June 2021, with temporary recapitalization measures being prolonged for an additional three months until 30 September 2021. The Temporary Framework provides Member States with the flexibility to support the economy while trying to maintain a level playing field in the context of the COVID-19 economic recovery and resilience.
The amendment of 13 October extends the Temporary Framework through the introduction of a new measure allowing Member States to help out companies that face a turnover during the eligible period of at least 30% compared to the same period of 2019. Member States will be allowed to compensate up to €3 million per undertaking for fixed costs not covered by their revenues. The Temporary Framework was first introduced in March 2019.
Initiatives at EU level
- European Parliament President David Sassoli announced that next week’s plenary will not be held in Strasbourg, but remotely. The decision is taken due to the rise in COVID-19 cases in Belgium and France. The agenda of the plenary session will be reduced in scope;
- On 12 October, in the framework of the German Presidency of the Council of the EU, the German Bundestag organized an interparliamentary conference on stability, economic coordination and governance in the EU. The dialogue between the national parliaments and the European Parliament focused on common budgetary rules in the EU, which is particularly relevant in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. For the first time in history, the general escape clause of the Stability and Growth Pact has been triggered, so that Member States’ deficit can exceed 3% of GDP in the fight against the economic consequences of the pandemic.
- On 9 October, the European Commission published a full list of all Member State measures it approved under Article 107 TFEU and the Temporary Framework for State Aid;
- The new agenda of the College of Commissioners reveals the policy agenda until the end of the year. Amongst others, the agenda shows we can expect the Commission to publish its work program for 2021 on 20 October.
30 September 2020
This week in Brussels
EU budget and recovery fund negotiations face rule-of-law obstacles
This week in Brussels, debates on rule of law issues are dominating the headlines. This was not only shown by the dispute between Commissioner Jourová and Hungarian PM Orbán about the state of Hungary’s democracy and the expected publication of the rule-of-law audit, but also during the negotiations on the €1.82 trillion Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 and recovery fund.
The rule-of-law conditionality on the payout of EU funds presents a major controversy in the EU legislators’ efforts to approve the next EU budget and recovery fund. To accommodate objections from Hungary and Poland, the German Presidency of the EU proposed the establishment of a new anti-corruption mechanism. This instrument will use a more narrow definition of unacceptable behavior in order to safeguard the proper use of EU funding, rather than imposing financial penalties on rule of law offenders. Additionally, the new proposal presents a threshold for a Commission proposed aimed at cutting funds to proceed. In order for the proposal to move forward, a quality majority of votes in the Council is necessary.
This new compromise proposal put forward by Germany does not find resonance with the European Parliament and the ‘Frugal Four’, who both insisted on strong rule-of-law conditionality in the run-up to earlier summits. Nevertheless, the watered-down proposal forms the basis for further negotiations on the next MFF and recovery fund.
Special European Council: towards ‘strategic autonomy’ in post-COVID-19 economy
European leaders will convene on 1 and 2 October for a Special European Council, after the European Council summit last week was cancelled as President Michel having to go into quarantine. The European Council will focus on current geopolitical challenges such as the situation with Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean, the elections in Belarus, the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Aleksej Navalny, and EU-China relations.
Another topic on the agenda will be “strategic autonomy”. Even though it is not yet clear what this term exactly entails, it is expected that European leaders will discuss ways to strengthen the EU’s resilience during the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The two priorities of the European Commission, and the two pillars of economic recovery, the green and digital transition, will be at the center of this discussion as these transitions are believed to improve the EU industry’s global competitiveness and autonomy. Important in this respect is a swift return to a fully functioning single market.
Initiatives at EU level
- French President Emmanuel Macron increased pressure on the European Parliament to return to “institutional normality” by stating that the EP plenary seat should return to Strasbourg. Macron claimed that the public health situation no longer justifies the choice to hold the plenary in Brussels as it is just as difficult in Brussels as in Strasbourg. This reaction from Macron follows the announcement of European Parliament President David Sassoli that the Plenary of 5 to 8 October takes place in Brussels due to “public health considerations”;
- On 25 September, the Council approved €87.4 billion in financial support for member states under the SURE unemployment instrument. SURE loans are backed by the EU budget and guarantees provided by member states according to their share in the EU’s GNI, for a total amount of €25 billion.
24 September 2020
This week in Brussels
EU Member States try to align criteria for border restrictions
This week, the Council of the EU resumed discussions on the formulation of common criteria on which border restrictions and public health measures throughout Europe will be based. According to POLITICO, the German Presidency is preparing a proposal harmonizing the data used for making decisions on travel advice. Member States would have to agree on a set of criteria which would determine when to introduce and when to ease border restrictions, and how to coordinate between Member States. Commissioner Breton, meanwhile, is increasing his efforts to prevent border closures in case of a second wave, calling ministers one by one to ensure a better EU response.
As was already announced in last week’s State of the Union, the Commission is preparing a new strategy on the future of the Schengen zone. This strategy is expected to reflect the imperfections that came to the fore during the first COVID-19 wave.
Initiatives at EU level
- The Special European Council, which was scheduled for 24 and 25 September, has been postponed to 1 and 2 October, since Charles Michel, the European Council President, will have to go in quarantine due to contact with an infected security guard. Pressing matters such as the increasing tensions in the Mediterranean between Greece and Cyprus, and the ongoing debate between Turkey and the EU on migration were on the agenda. EU leaders have had just one physical meeting in July after the lifting of strict lockdown measures, during which they agreed on a new €1.82 trillion EU budget and recovery fund. The postponement of this summit due to COVID-19 means that other special summits could be needed this fall, to also discuss matters such as Brexit and the post-Brexit relationship with the UK;
- The European Parliament plans to open a coronavirus testing facility for MEPs and staff, to ensure safety for MEPs and staff travelling to and from their constituencies. Test results will generally be available within 24 hours;
- The European Commission approved the modification of nine Spanish Cohesion policy programmes, worth a total of €1.2 billion from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), to alleviate the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. This comprehensive recovery approach will reallocate funds to strengthen the response capacity of the Spanish health system;
- Denmark, Greece, Hungary and Sweden have joined Germany and Romania as host states of the rescEU medical equipment reserve. With financial support from the European Commission now altogether 6 EU Member States are building up common European stocks of lifesaving protective and other vital medical equipment;
- The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published its risk assessment regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. The risk assessment shows that notification rates have increased steadily across the EU and the UK since August, and that measures have not always been sufficient to reduce and control exposure to the virus;
- On 18 September, a contract was signed between the European Commission and pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and GSK. The contract will allow all EU Member States to purchase up to 300 million doses of the Sanofi-GSK vaccine.
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.