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European coordinated response to counter the economic impact of the Coronavirus

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COVID-19 is a severe public health emergency for our citizens, societies and economies with infections in all Member States. It is also a major economic shock to the EU. The Commission therefore presents today an immediate response to mitigate the socio-economic impact of  the COVID-19 outbreak, centred on a European coordinated response.

The Commission will use all the instruments at its disposal to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic, in particular:

–          To ensure the necessary supplies to our health systems by preserving the integrity of the Single Market and of production and distribution of value chains;

–          To support people so that income and jobs are not affected disproportionally and to avoid permanent effect of this crisis;

–          To support firms and ensure that the liquidity of our financial sector can continue to support the economy

–          And to allow Member States to act decisively in a coordinated way, through using the full flexibility of our State Aid and Stability and Growth Pact Frameworks.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “The Coronavirus pandemic is testing us all. This is not only an unprecedented challenge for our healthcare systems, but also a major shock for our economies. The important economic package announced today deal with the situation of today. We stand ready to do more as the situation evolves. We will do whatever is necessary to support the Europeans and the European economy.”

State aid Framework Flexibility

The main fiscal response to the Coronavirus will come from Member States’ national budgets. EU State aid rules enable Member States to take swift and effective action to support citizens and companies, in particular SMEs, facing economic difficulties due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Member States can design ample support measures in line with existing EU rules. First, they can decide to take measures, such as wage subsidies, suspension of payments of corporate and value added taxes or social contributions. In addition, Member States can grant financial support directly to consumers, for example for cancelled services or tickets that are not reimbursed by the operators concerned. Also, EU State aid rules enable Member States to help companies cope with liquidity shortages and needing urgent rescue aid. Article 107(2)(b) TFEU enables Member States to compensate companies for the damage directly caused by exceptional occurrences, including measures in sectors such as aviation and tourism.

Currently, the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy is of a nature and scale that allows the use of Article 107(3)(b) TFEU. This enables the Commission to approve additional national support measures to remedy a serious disturbance to the economy of a Member State.

The Commission’s assessment for the use of Article 107(3)b for other Member States will take a similar approach. The Commission is preparing a special legal framework under Article 107(3)(b) TFEU to adopt in case of need.

The Commission stands ready to work with all Member States to ensure that possible national support measures to tackle the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus can be put in place in a timely manner.

European Fiscal Framework Flexibility

The Commission will propose to the Council to apply the full flexibility provided for in the EU fiscal framework so that they can implement the measures needed to contain the coronavirus outbreak and mitigate its negative socio-economic effects.

First, the Commission considers that the COVID-19 pandemic qualifies as an “unusual events outside the control of government”. This allows accommodating exceptional spending to contain the COVID-19 outbreak such as health care expenditure and targeted relief measures for firms and workers.

Second, the Commission will recommend adjusting the fiscal efforts required from Member States in case of negative growth or large drops in activity.

Finally, the Commission stands ready to propose to the Council to activate the general escape clause to accommodate a more general fiscal policy support. This clause would – in cooperation with the Council – suspend the fiscal adjustment recommended by the Council in case of a severe economic downturn in the euro area or the EU as a whole.

Ensuring solidarity in the Single Market

Only with solidarity and Europe-wide coordinated solution, we will be able to effectively manage this public health emergency. Solidarity is key in this crisis, in particular to ensure that essential goods, necessary to mitigate the health risks of the outbreak, can reach all those in need. It is essential to act together to secure production, stocking, availability and rational use of medical protective equipment and medicines in the EU, openly and transparently, rather than taking unilateral measures that restrict the free movement of essential healthcare goods.

The Commission is therefore taking all necessary steps to that end including by providing guidance for Member States on how to put in place adequate control mechanisms to ensure security of supply, and by launching an accelerated joint procurement procedure for these goods and issuing a recommendation on non CE-marked protective equipment.

The COVID-19 outbreak is having a major impact on our transport systems, given the close interlink of European supply chains, supported by an extensive network of freight services on land, at sea, and airborne. The Commission is working with Member States to ensure the flow of essential goods across land borders. The international and European aviation industry has been particularly hit. As announced by President von der Leyen on 10 March, to help ease the economic and ecological impact of the outbreak, the Commission is proposing today targeted legislation to temporarily alleviate airlines from the “use-it-or-lose-it” rule – whereby air carriers must use at least 80% of their airports slots within a given period in order to keep them within the corresponding period of the next year.

Finally, the Commission is liaising with Member States, international authorities and key EU professional associations to monitor the impact of the crisis on the tourism sector and coordinate support measures.

Mobilising the EU budget

To bring immediate relief to hard-hit SMEs, the EU budget will deploy its existing instruments to support these companies with liquidity, complementing measures taken at national level. In the coming weeks, EUR1 billion will be redirected from the EU budget as a guarantee to the European Investment Fund to incentivise banks to provide liquidity to SMEs and midcaps. This will help at least 100,000 European SMEs and small mid-caps with about EUR 8 billion of financing. We will also provide credit holidays to the existing debtors that are negatively affected.

Alleviating the impact on employment

We need to protect workers from unemployment and loss of income to avoid permanent effect. The Commission stands ready to support Member States in this, promoting, in particular short-time work schemes, upskilling and reskilling programmes that have proven effective in the past.

The Commission will furthermore accelerate the preparation of the legislative proposal for a European Unemployment Reinsurance Scheme aiming at supporting Member State policies that preserve jobs and skills.

Moreover, the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative will facilitate the deployment of the European Social Fund – a fund geared towards supporting workers and healthcare.

The European Globalisation Adjustment Fund could also be mobilised to support dismissed workers and those self-employed under the conditions of the current and future Regulation. Up to EUR 179 million is available in 2020.

Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative

Under this new initiative, the Commission proposes to direct EUR 37 billion under Cohesion policy to the fight against the Coronavirus crisis. To this effect, the Commission proposes to relinquish this year its obligation to request Member States to refund unspent pre-financing for the structural funds. This amounts to about EUR 8 billion from the EU budget, which Member States will be able to use to supplement EUR 29 billion of structural funding across the EU. This will effectively increase the amount of investment in 2020 and help to front-load the use of the as yet unallocated EUR 28 billion of cohesion policy funding within the 2014-2020 cohesion policy programmes. The Commission calls upon the European Parliament and the Council to swiftly approve this proposal, so that it can be adopted within the next two weeks.

In addition, the Commission is proposing to extend the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund by also including a public health crisis within its scope, in view of mobilising it if needed for the hardest hit Member States. Up to EUR 800 million is available in 2020. 

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EU Politics

Innovation performance keeps improving in EU Member States and regions

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The Commission has today released the European Innovation Scoreboard 2021, which shows that Europe’s innovation performance continues to improve across the EU. On average, innovation performance has increased by 12.5% since 2014. There is continued convergence within the EU, with lower performing countries growing faster than higher performing ones, therefore closing the innovation gap among them. According to the 2021 Regional Innovation Scoreboard also published today, this trend applies to innovation across EU regions. In the global landscape, the EU is performing better than its competitors like China, Brazil, South Africa, Russia, and India, while South Korea, Canada, Australia, the United States, and Japan have a performance lead over the EU. This year’s European Innovation Scoreboard is based on a revised framework, which includes new indicators on digitalisation and environmental sustainability, bringing the scoreboard more in line with the EU political priorities.

Key findings 

 Based on their scores, EU countries fall into four performance groups: Innovation leaders, Strong innovators, Moderate innovators and Emerging innovators. 

  • Sweden continues to be the  EU Innovation Leader, followed by Finland, Denmark and Belgium, all with innovation performance well above the EU average. 
  • The performance groups tend to be geographically concentrated, with the Innovation Leaders and most Strong Innovators being located in Northern and Western Europe, and most of the Moderate and Emerging Innovators in Southern and Eastern Europe. 
  • On average, the innovation performance of the EU has increased by 12.5 percentage points since 2014.  Performance has increased the most in Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Italy and Lithuania. 
  • Five Member States witnessed an improvement in performance of 25 percentage points or more (Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Italy and Lithuania). Four Member States had a performance improvement of between 15 and 25 percentage points (Belgium, Croatia, Finland, and Sweden). For eight Member States, performance improved between 10 and 15 percentage points (Austria, Czechia, Germany, Latvia Malta, Netherlands, Poland and Spain). The remaining 10 Member States witnessed an improvement in performance of up to ten percentage points.
  • Comparing the EU average to a selection of global competitors, South Korea is the most innovative country, performing 36% above the score of the EU in 2014 and 21% above the EU in 2021. The EU is ahead of China, Brazil, South Africa, Russia, and India in this year’s EIS, while Canada, Australia, the United States, and Japan have a performance lead over the EU. 
  • Innovation performance has increased for 225 regions out of the total of 240 regions over the period since 2014. There has been a process of convergence in regional performance over time, with decreasing performance differences between regions. 
  • The most innovative region in Europe is Stockholm in Sweden, followed by Etelä-Suomi in Finland, and Oberbayern in Germany. Hovedstaden in Denmark is in fourth place, and Zürich in Switzerland is in fifth place. 

Members of the College said:

Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market, said: “European innovations like the technologies at the heart of new COVID-19 vaccines have been crucial to fighting and overcoming the current pandemic. The EU’s improved innovation performance is a very positive signal. Investing in innovation is investing in our ability to be at the technological forefront for a sustainable, digital and resilient economy and society.”

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “Europe’s commitment to innovation is shown by its continuous improvement in innovation performance. All EU Member States and regions are investing more on innovation and the innovation gap in the EU is decreasing. In support of Europe’s innovation capacity, Horizon Europe will promote excellence and support top researchers and innovators to drive the systemic changes needed to ensure a green, healthy and resilient Europe.”

Elisa Ferreira, Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, said: “Innovation is increasingly one of the deciding factors to promote development and convergence across the European. While these important reports highlight the progress made in much of Europe, a significant innovation divide still remains, particularly for less developed and peripheral regions. Addressing the innovation divide is critical for economic, social and territorial cohesion. Cohesion funds will continue to promote smart and place based innovation strategies.

Background 

The European innovation scoreboard provides a comparative analysis of innovation performance in EU countries, other European countries and regional neighbors. It assesses relative strengths and weaknesses of national innovation systems and helps countries identify areas they need to address. The first European innovation scoreboard was released in 2001. The European Innovation Scoreboard demonstrates the commitment of the EU and its Member States to research and innovation that is based on excellence and that it is competitive, open and talent-driven. It also supports the development of policies to enhance innovation in Europe and inform policy makers in the rapidly evolving global context. Moreover, research and innovation is an essential part of the coordinated EU response to the coronavirus crisis, supporting also Europe’s sustainable and inclusive recovery. Measuring innovation performance is a key element in achieving this goal.  

About two-thirds of Europe’s productivity growth over the last decades has been driven by innovation, according to the report ‘Science, Research and Innovation performance of the EU, 2020 (SRIP)‘. Research and innovation boost the resilience of our production sectors, the competitiveness of our economies and the digital and ecological transformations of our societies. They also ensure preparedness for the future and are critical to deliver on the European Green Deal and on the Digital Compass.  Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation programme for the years 2021-2027 with a budget of €95.5 billion, will help accelerate Europe’s environmental and digital transformations. Over the same period, cohesion policy will invest over €56.8 billion in research and innovation capacities, digitalisation and skills to support the innovative and green economic transformation of the European regions. These aims also lie at the core of the EU’s updated Industrial Strategy, which proposes new measures to strengthen the resilience of our Single Market. The Strategy also proposes measures to respond to our dependencies in key strategic areas as well as accelerate the green and digital transitions – all of which will be instrumental in boosting the EU’s performance in innovation. In addition, the European Research Area (ERA) will create a single and borderless market for research, innovation and technology, based on excellence, while at the same time boosting the market uptake of research and innovation results across the EU.

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EU clears way for the EU Digital COVID Certificate

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Today, the Presidents of the three EU institutions, the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission attended the official signing ceremony for the Regulation on the EU Digital COVID Certificate, marking the end of the legislative process. On this occasion Presidents David Sassoli and Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister António Costa said:

“The EU Digital COVID Certificate is a symbol of what Europe stands for. Of a Europe that does not falter when put to the test. A Europe that unites and grows when faced with challenges. Our Union showed again that we work best when we work together. The EU Digital COVID Certificate Regulation was agreed between our institutions in the record time of 62 days. While we worked through the legislative process, we also built the technical backbone of the system, the EU gateway, which is live since 1 June.

We can be proud of this great achievement. The Europe that we all know and that we all want back is a Europe without barriers. The EU Certificate will again enable citizens to enjoy this most tangible and cherished of EU rights – the right to free movement. Signed into law today, it will enable us to travel more safely this summer. Today we reaffirm together that an open Europe prevails.”

EU Digital COVID Certificate

The aim of the EU Digital COVID Certificate is to facilitate safe and free movement inside the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic. All Europeans have the right to free movement, also without the certificate, but the certificate will facilitate travel, exempting holders from restrictions like quarantine.

The EU Digital COVID Certificate will be accessible for everyone and it will:

  • cover COVID-19 vaccination, test and recovery;
  • be free of charge and available in all EU languages;
  • be available in a digital and paper-based format;
  • be secure and include a digitally signed QR code;

Member States shall refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on the holders of an EU Digital COVID Certificate, unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health.

In addition, the Commission committed to mobilising €100 million under the Emergency Support Instrument to support Member States in providing affordable tests.

The Regulation will apply for 12 months as of 1 July 2021.

Background

On 17 March 2021, the European Commission presented a proposal to create an EU COVID Certificate to facilitate the safe free movement of citizens within the EU during the pandemic. On 20 May, co-legislators reached a provisional agreement. On 1 June, the technical backbone of the systems, the EU gateway, went live. The gateway allows the verification of the security features contained in the QR codes.

Following the official signature today, the Regulation will enter into application on 1 July, with a phasing-in period of six weeks for the issuance of certificates for those Member States that need additional time.

13 Member States have already started to issue EU Digital COVID Certificates.

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EU proposes a strong multilateral trade response to the COVID-19 pandemic

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EU has submitted its proposal seeking the commitment of World Trade Organization (WTO) members for a multilateral trade action plan to expand the production of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, and ensure universal and fair access. With this proposal to the WTO, divided in two communications, the EU underlines the WTO’s central role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and urges fellow WTO members to agree on a set of commitments, including on intellectual property rights.

President von der Leyen said: “The EU has actively shown solidarity with the world since the beginning of the pandemic. The European Union authorized exports of around half of the total amount of vaccines produced in Europe. Our immediate, urgent goal is to ensure equitable access for low – and middle-income countries, to share vaccines wider and faster. And we continue to help ramping up production. The EU proposes concrete short and medium term solutions to ensure universal access at affordable prices. I am looking forward to discuss with the G7 leaders next week how to achieve this goal. Beyond the current crisis, it is important to ensure global preparedness for future pandemics: diversifying manufacturing so that it is not centralised only in a handful of countries and strengthening the resilience of the healthcare infrastructure in least developed countries”.

Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: “The pandemic is still with us and there can be no room for complacency. We need to urgently concentrate on proposals that accelerate the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. In this respect, a strong multilateral trade response could deliver a huge boost in the fight against COVID-19. In reality, the main problem at this moment relates to the lack of sufficient manufacturing capacity to rapidly produce the required quantities. The objective must be to ensure that any available and adequate manufacturing capacity anywhere in the world is used for the COVID-19 vaccines production.”

More on the EU’s proposal

The EU calls on governments to:

  1. Ensure that COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and their components can cross borders freely;
  2. encourage producers to expand their production, while ensuring that those countries most in need of vaccines receive them at an affordable price, and;
  3. facilitate the use of compulsory licensing within the WTO’s existing Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The TRIPS Agreement already provides this flexibility, which is a legitimate tool during the pandemic that can be used swiftly where needed

The first element aims to limit the use of export restrictions and keep supply chains open. Vaccine-producing countries should be ready to export a fair share of their domestic production. Supply chains are highly interconnected and should not be disrupted. In addition, the EU considers that supplies to the COVAX Facility should never be restricted, and no measures should limit trade in inputs necessary for the production of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. 

The second element calls on governments to strongly encourage and support vaccine manufacturers and developers to expand production and ensure the affordable supply of vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. Such actions could include licensing agreements, the sharing of expertise, tiered pricing including non-profit sales to low-income countries, contract manufacturing and new investments in manufacturing facilities in developing countries. The EU expects all vaccine producers and developers to make concrete pledges that increase supplies to vulnerable developing countries. In this regard, the EU welcomes the commitment of companies such as BioNTech and Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, which have already committed to delivering 1.3 billion doses this year to low-income countries at no profit and to middle-income countries at lower cost.

The third element, on intellectual property, sets out that voluntary licences are the most effective instrument to facilitate the expansion of production and sharing of expertise. Where voluntary cooperation fails, compulsory licences, whereby a government grants a targeted licence allowing a willing producer to make a vaccine without the consent of a patent holder, are a legitimate tool in the context of a pandemic. The EU considers that all WTO members should be ready to:

  • agree that the COVID-19 pandemic is an exceptional circumstance of national emergency, and that the requirement to negotiate with the rights’ holder may be legitimately waived where needed;
  • support manufacturers that are ready to produce vaccines and/or treatments at affordable prices under a compulsory licence so that the level of remuneration paid by the manufacturer to the patent holder reflects such affordable prices;
  • agree that the compulsory licence could cover any exports destined to countries that lack manufacturing capacity, including via the COVAX facility.

The EU is also tabling a dedicated communication on intellectual property to the WTO body in charge of implementing the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Council). Here, the EU provides more detail and clarity on each of the three points on intellectual property and links them with the specific provisions in the TRIPS Agreement. As regards the broad waiver proposed by a number of WTO members, the European Commission, while ready to discuss any option that helps end the pandemic as soon as possible, is not convinced that this would provide the best immediate response to reach the objective of the widest and timely distribution of COVID-19 vaccines that the world urgently needs. Today’s proposals aim at achieving that objective in a swift and effective manner.

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