Latest EU news on COVID-19

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In order to find a way out of the COVID-19 crisis, multiple Member States believe that the use of mobile data applications could serve as an effective instrument to trace the spread of the virus. The use of such applications could warn citizens about infected bystanders, or communicate their symptoms to the hospital or generical practitioner. In order to introduce these applications in a coordinated fashion across the EU, On 8 April, the Commission issued a recommendation for an exit strategy through the use of mobile data and applications. The recommendation follows a statement by the European Data Protection Supervisor earlier this week, who called for “a pan-European model ‘COVID-19 mobile application’ coordinated at EU level”.

The use of these applications can be a breakthrough for public health purposes and to get a better understanding of the spread of the virus. At the same time, the use of these applications, which process the location data of people, has already led to privacy concerns among the European citizens. The EU is often lauded for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), but the introduction of tracing applications poses a threat for Member States to comply with this act. In its recommendation, the European Commission emphasizes that Member States are encouraged to only use fully anonymized and aggregated mobile location data, which cannot be shared with third parties and is only stored as long as necessary. The coming weeks will show how Member States assess the trade-off between public health and privacy.

Initiatives at EU level

  • Yesterday, the European Commission sent Member States a draft proposal to further extend the scope of the State Aid Temporary Framework. The Framework was adopted on 19 March and was already extended to include public support for research, testing and relevant products on 3 April. Member States are now consulted on a possible extension to enable them to provide recapitalizations to companies in need. Recapitalization should remain a last-resort-measure and will be subject to strict governance provisions;
  • European Commissioner for Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, delivered a speech to reflect on the outcome of the Eurogroup meeting. Gentiloni welcomed the outcome of the meeting and stressed that the European Commission will work on the long-term recovery via the new MFF proposal by the end of April;
  • The European Commission has invited the Schengen Zone Member States to extend the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU until 15 May. The first travel ban was approved by Member States on 17 March for a period of 30 days;
  • The European Commission approved several national support schemes under the Temporary Framework for state aid:
  • Belgium introduced a €3 billion guarantee scheme for working capital and investment loans to support the companies in the Flemish region;
  • Croatia introduced a €1 billion support scheme, which will provide zero-interest loans and loans with subsidized interest rates;
  • Lithuania set up a €150 million scheme enabling the granting of loans at favorable terms, to help businesses cover immediate working capital needs;
  • Poland presented a €115 million scheme to relieve companies from part of the interests they have to pay on loans.
    • Austria introduced a €15 billion liquidity scheme in the form of grants and guarantees on loans for companies affected by the COVID-19 outbreak;
    • Bulgaria has established a 255 million guarantee scheme for micro, small and medium-sized companies to cover immediate working capital and investment needs;
    • Greece has set up a €1.2 billion scheme providing grants for SMEs;
    • Hungary introduced a €140 million scheme that provides direct grants to SMEs to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic;
    • Luxembourg presented a €30 million scheme to support COVID-19 related research and development (R&D) and investments in the production of products to the outbreak;
    • Portugal introduces a 20 million credit line scheme to support fishery and aquaculture.
  • Renew Europe is working on a draft resolution on how to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The resolution stresses the need for sufficient support for SMEs and for the introduction of recovery bonds guaranteed by the EU budget. These recovery bonds are comparable to Eurobonds but will not involve the mutualization of existing debt and will only be oriented towards future investment.

National measures

  • In the Czech Republic, the first non-essential shops have reopened after being closed for more than three weeks;
  • Poland has decided to extend some of its lockdown measures. People will have to stay at home and non-essential shops stay closed until 19 April, schools stay closed and international flights are banned until 26 April and the borders remain closed until 3 May.
  • Romania introduced a ban on the export of certain cereals as a measure to secure national supply during the COVID-19 crisis. Romania’s Interior Minister stated that “during the state of emergency, the export of the following products is prohibited and suspended: wheat, barley, oats, maize, soybeans, flour, seed oil, sugar, biscuits, cakes, everything related to bakery”. EU Member States are still allowed to buy the cereals under the condition they are intended for domestic use and not for export;

Next steps

Council of the EU

  • 14-04: Videoconference of ministers of education;
  • 15-04: Videoconference of ministers of health;
  • 16-04: Videoconference of foreign affairs ministers (main subject will be trade).

European Commission

  • Next week: Publication of the Exit Strategy (Communication)
  • Please find the provisional agenda of the Commission for this and next week here.

European Parliament

  • 14-04: Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee meeting (IMCO), including an exchange of views with Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice, on the COVID-19 outbreak;
  • 15-04: The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) will discuss the agriculture-related measures in the context of the COVID-19 crisis with Agriculture Commissioner Wojciechowski;
  • 16-04 to 17-04: Extraordinary plenary session in Brussels (agenda);
  • 20-04: Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) will hold a remote meeting;
  • 21-04: The Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) will hold a remote meeting;
  • 21-04: European Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, will exchange views with the Transport and Tourism (TRAN) Committee to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak;
  • 21-04: Committee on International Trade (INTA) will hold a remote meeting.
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