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Explainer: EU Emergency Support Instrument for the healthcare sector

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What does the Commission propose to support the healthcare sector?

The Commission wants to directly support the healthcare systems of EU Member States in their fights against the coronavirus pandemic through measures that can best be taken at EU level. For this purpose and based on the solidarity principle, the Commission will complement in a fast, flexible and direct way the ongoing efforts at national level.

More concretely and as a first stage, the Commission has drawn up an initial needs assessment and will be working with Member States to further detail and prioritise their necessities.

To finance this action, the Commission is mobilising €3 billion from the EU budget, of which €2.7 billion will be channelled through the Emergency Support Instrument and €300 million though the rescEU medical equipment capacity. Additional contributions will be possible from Member States and also individuals, foundations and even crowd funding.

In this way, the Commission will be able to:

-directly purchase or procure emergency support on behalf of Member States and distributing medical supplies such as masks and respirators;

-financially support and co-ordinate pressing needs such as the transportation of medical equipment and of patients in cross-border regions;

-support the construction of mobile field hospitals.

To make use of efficiency gains and generate economies of scale, wherever possible, the Commission will directly procure on behalf of Member States and focus the help where the needs are.

In the medium- to long-term and thanks to these tools, the EU will be able to support testing capacities of its Member States and to support any relevant medical research. In this way, the Commission will be providing an EU response throughout the health crisis, until its exit.

To implement the initiative, the Commission will work with Member States national health authorities, international organisations and with the non-governmental sector.

What action can be undertaken via the Emergency Support Instrument?

The Emergency Support Instrument will allow the EU to provide a coordinated EU response throughout the different stages of the crisis.

The concrete action will depend on the needs of the EU countries. For example, the Commission will work to:

-support the imports, transport and distribution of protective gear, focusing on worst hit regions;

-assist the transportation of patients in need to cross-border hospitals which can offer free capacity;

-boost the swift development of medication and testing methods.

Other actions will also be possible, according to the evolving needs of Member States, hospitals, doctors and patients.

How will this action be financed?

To secure the necessary financing, the Commission is relying entirely on the EU budget for 2014-2020 and mobilising all available resources within the spending limits for 2020.

This is why today the Commission has also put forward a Draft Amending Budget – a proposal to reorganise part of the EU spending for the year in line with the latest priorities – to secure:

€300 million for the rescEU-medical equipment capacity.This will help to procure and distribute further medical supplies across the EU. The funding comes on top of the €80 million already allocated last month.

€2.7 billion directly to the European Union’s Emergency Support Instrument – whose general purpose is to complement the other EU instruments, where they cannot act alone, by directly respond to crisis situations across the EU – and to amend it so that it can be used in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Commission will activate the remaining flexibility of the current long-term budget – reserves which go beyond the annual ceilings – to finance this operation.

The needs are obviously bigger than the budget you have. How are you going to bridge the gap?

Given the medium- to long-term perspective of the proposed action, the Commission will explore further avenues to attract financing. These include donations by individuals, foundations and even crowd funding. The Commission is looking into putting in place all necessary modalities to allow speedy collection of contributions and donations. The budget could be further reinforced through these means as well as fresh budget appropriation in 2021 once a budget for 2021 is in place (based on an agreement on the MFF 2021-2027).

How will this money be distributed among Member States?

The objective of the initiative will be to provide targeted support to the Member States and regions most concerned.

Given the rapid evolution of the health crisis across the Union, there cannot be a pre-determined allocation per Member State. The team running the initiative will monitor the ongoing developments and respond based on the relative severity of the crisis in the different Member States as well as already existing measures and instruments.

To map EU countries’ most pressing necessities and be able to direct money where the needs are, the Commission has already started working with Member States’ national health authorities. This preliminary assessment will serve to identify the first steps to make and the decisions to take. Additional consultations with Member States and specific requests from their part will also be taken into account.

Who will be implementing the initiative?

The Commission will have a central role in implementing the initiative. For this purpose, the Commission is setting up a Task Force from across its departments, which will work, on a full time basis, to turn the ideas into action. The team in charge will include experts in crisis management, health policy, transport, EU public procurement and financial management.

Of course, the Commission will work closely with Member States’ national authorities as well as international organisations and the non-governmental sector.

Which will be the next steps?

Today, the Commission has put forward a comprehensive legislative proposal to finance and implement its action to directly support Member States’ healthcare sectors. The Commission is inviting the European Parliament and the Council to endorse this initiative as soon as possible.

In the meantime, the Commission will be working to identify and prepare the first actions that need to be undertaken so that implementation can start as soon as the legislative proposals have been adopted.

What other actions have been supported by the EU budget?

The EU has already taken a series of action to address the coronavirus pandemic across the EU, in the Western Balkans and in the Eastern Partnership countries.

Measures taken so far notably include unlocking €37 billion of investments from the EU cohesion funds to enable Member States buy medical supplies, pay doctors and help small and medium-sized enterprises keep paying their staff; creating the first-ever RescEU medical capacity and financing the repatriation of EU nationals stranded around the world. So far, the Union Civil Protection Mechanism has facilitated the repatriation of 10,017 EU citizens to Europe on 47 flights.

However, the scale and scope of the challenge requires an even more robust co-ordinated response, targeted directly at the health care systems, which builds on the solidarity and enhances cooperation between EU Member States.

Today’s initiative will be complementary to and consistent with the action taken so far. It will seek to add to what national healthcare authorities are already doing by creating synergies and making best use of economies of scale.

How the rescEU medical capacity works?

The medical capacity will be hosted by one or several Member States. The hosting State will be responsible for procuring the equipment. The Commission will finance 100% of the medical capacity. The Emergency Response Coordination Centre will manage the distribution of the equipment to ensure it goes where it is needed most.

The initial EU budget of the capacity is €80 million, of which €70 million is subject to the approval of the budgetary authorities.

Who can use strategic capacity of critical medical assets under rescEU?

rescEU capacities are primarily available to complement national capacities of all countries that are part of the Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM): all EU Member States, the UK during the transition period and six Participating States (Iceland, Norway, Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Turkey).

If national capacities and including those pre-committed to the European Civil Protection Pool under the Mechanism are not sufficient to ensure an effective response to an emergency, rescEU capacities can be activated as a last resort and strategic reserve at European level.

Other countries can in principle also request support to the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. If no assistance is offered on spontaneous basis or through the European Civil Protection Mechanism, rescEU capacities such as the newly created stockpile can be deployed in third countries but only for an emergency with a major impact on Member States or EU citizens.

However, in view of current high demand for medical capacities under the Union Civil Protection Mechanism from countries participating in the Mechanism, it is at this stage unlikely that the rescEU capacity can be used for response operations in countries not participating in the Mechanism.

How are you going to report on how the project is being implemented and on how the money has been spent?

In full transparency, the Commission is going to set up a dedicated section on its website where it will report on the progress made and on the steps ahead

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EU Politics

Von der Leyen Outlines Vision for Stronger Europe

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Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, outlined a vision for a stronger and more independent Europe based on trust and the values of liberal democracy in a special address on Thursday to business, government and civil society leaders taking part in the World Economic Forum’s virtual event, the Davos Agenda.

In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, she spoke of European democracies showing their strengths. “The pandemic has demonstrated that democracies are the more powerful, resilient and sustainable form of government,” she said.

Democracy means liberty of research, freedom of science and independent choices for investors, she added. Europe has delivered over 1.2 billion doses of vaccines to its citizens, with more than 80% of the European population double vaccinated.

She also pointed to Europe’s leadership in discovering the mRNA vaccine technology and exporting it to the world. “Europe is the only region in the world to export or donate vaccines to other countries throughout the crisis, with 1.6 billion vaccine doses made in Europe having been delivered to 150 countries.”

On the path to recovery, Europe’s most valuable asset is trust, said von der Leyen. “Trust in science, for our health. Trust among countries, for cooperation. Trust in functioning societies, for competitiveness. Trust will be essential to build the world of tomorrow.”

Trust will also be essential for European citizens to embrace the European Green Deal, a set of policy initiatives with the overarching aim of making the European Union climate-neutral by 2050. The EC has issued the first NextGenerationEU bond for green and sustainable investments in the EU. This represents, she said, the world’s largest green bond issuance, adding that it was heavily oversubscribed.

“These developments demonstrate a clear sign of international confidence and trust in Europe,” she said.

Although von der Leyen said Europe is well positioned, it must do more to build supply chains we can trust and avoid single points of failure. Issues range from dependence on non-renewable energy to lack of local manufacturing of microchips and semiconductors to Europe’s gas crisis.

“Europe’s global semiconductor market share is only 10%. And today, most of our supply comes from a handful of producers outside Europe. This is a dependency and uncertainty we simply cannot afford. We have no time to lose. And this is why I announce here today that we will propose our European Chips Act in early February,” she said.

She emphasized that trust is also essential in the international arena: “At this moment in time, the world needs trust in democracy as much as trust between democracies.” Referring to intense dialogue with Russia, she stressed that Europe will not go back to the old logic of competition and spheres of interest, where entire countries were treated as possessions or backyards.

“We want this dialogue. We want conflicts to be solved in the bodies that have been formed for this purpose. But if the situation deteriorates, if there are any further attacks on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, we will respond with massive economic and financial sanctions.”

“And what I want us never to forget is the following. Russia and Europe share geography, culture and history. We also want a common future,” she added.

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Commission approves 2022-2027 regional aid map for Greece

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The European Commission has approved under EU State aid rules Greece’s map for granting regional aid from 1 January 2022 to 31 December 2027 within the framework of the revised Regional aid Guidelines (‘RAG’).

The revised RAG, adopted by the Commission on 19 April 2021 and entering into force on 1 January 2022, enable Member States to support the least favoured European regions in catching up and to reduce disparities in terms of economic well-being, income and unemployment – cohesion objectives that are at the heart of the Union. They also provide increased possibilities for Member States to support regions facing transition or structural challenges such as depopulation, to contribute fully to the green and digital transitions.

At the same time, the revised RAG maintain strong safeguards to prevent Member States from using public money to trigger the relocation of jobs from one EU Member State to another, which is essential for fair competition in the Single Market.

Greece’s regional map defines the Greek regions eligible for regional investment aid. The map also establishes the maximum aid intensities in the eligible regions. The aid intensity is the maximum amount of State aid that can be granted per beneficiary, expressed as a percentage of eligible investment costs.

Under the revised RAG, regions covering 82.34% of the population of Greece will be eligible for regional investment aid:

Twelve regions (Βόρειο Αιγαίο / Voreio Aigaio, Νότιο Αιγαίο / Notio Aigaio, Κρήτη / Kriti, Aνατολική Μακεδονία, Θράκη / Anatoliki Makedonia, Thraki, Κεντρική Μακεδονία / Kentriki Makedonia, Δυτική Μακεδονία / Dytiki Makedonia, Ήπειρος / Ipeiros, Θεσσαλία / Thessalia, Ιόνια Νησιά / Ionia Nisia, Δυτική Ελλάδα / Dytiki Elláda, Στερεά Ελλάδα / Sterea Elláda and Πελοπόννησος / Peloponnisos) are among the most disadvantaged regions in the EU, with a GDP per capita below 75% of EU average. These regions are eligible for aid under Article 107(3)(a) TFEU (so-called ‘a’ areas), with maximum aid intensities for large enterprises between 30% and 50%, depending on the GDP per capita of the respective ‘a’ area. The region Ευρυτανία / Evrytania, which is part of Στερεά Ελλάδα / Sterea Elláda, also qualifies as a sparsely populated area having fewer than 12,5 inhabitants per km². In sparsely populated areas, Member States can use operating aid schemes to prevent or reduce depopulation.

In order to address regional disparities, Greece has designated as so-called non-predefined ‘c’ areas the regions of Δυτικός Τομέας Αθηνών / Dytikos Tomeas Athinon, Ανατολική Αττική / Anatoliki Attiki, Δυτική Αττική / Dytiki Attiki and Πειραιάς, Νήσοι / Peiraias, Nisoi. The maximum aid intensities for large enterprises in Δυτικός Τομέας Αθηνών / Dytikos Tomeas Athinon is 15%. The other ‘c’ areas mentioned above border with ‘a’ areas. For this reason, the aid intensity in these regions has been increased to 25%, so that the difference in aid intensity with the bordering ‘a’ areas is limited to 15 percentage points.

Greece has the possibility to designate further so-called non-predefined ‘c’ areas (up to a maximum of 1.16% of the national population). The specific designation of these areas can take place in the future and would result in one or more amendments to the regional aid map approved today.

In all the above areas, the maximum aid intensities can be increased by 10 percentage points for investments made by medium-sized enterprises and by 20 percentage points for investments made by small enterprises, for their initial investments with eligible costs up to €50 million.

Once a future territorial Just Transition plan in the context of the Just Transition Fund Regulation will be in place, Greece has the possibility to notify the Commission an amendment to the regional aid map approved today, in order to apply a potential increase of the maximum aid intensity in the future Just Transition areas, as specified in the revised RAG for ‘a’ areas.

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20 years of the euro in your pocket

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Twenty years ago, on 1 January 2002, twelve EU countries changed their national currency banknotes and coins for the euro in the largest currency changeover in history. In these two decades, the euro has contributed to the stability, competitiveness and prosperity of European economies. Most importantly, it has improved the lives of citizens and made it easier to do business across Europe and beyond. With the euro in your pocket, saving, investing, travelling and doing business became much easier.

The euro is a symbol of EU integration and identity. Today, more than 340 million people use it across 19 EU countries, with 27.6 billion euro banknotes in circulation for a value of about €1.5 trillion. The euro is currently the second most widely used currency in the world behind the US dollar.

As it celebrates this 20th anniversary, the EU continues the work to strengthen the international role of the euro and adapt it to new challenges, including the rapid digitalisation of the economy and the development of virtual currencies. As a complement to cash, a digital euro would support a well-integrated payments sector and would offer greater choice to consumers and businesses.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: “It is now twenty years that we, European people, can carry Europe in our pockets. The euro is not just one of the most powerful currencies in the world. It is, first and foremost, a symbol of European unity. Euro banknotes have bridges on one side and a door on the other – because this is what the euro stands for. The euro is also the currency of the future, and in the coming years it will become a digital currency too. The euro also reflects our values. The world we want to live in. It is the global currency for sustainable investments. We can all be proud of that.”

David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, said: “The euro is the embodiment of an ambitious political project to promote peace and integration within the European Union. But the euro is also a condition for protecting and relaunching the European economic, social, and political model in the face of the transformations of our time. The euro is a symbol, the coming to fruition of a historic political vision, an ancient vision of a united continent with a single currency for a single market.”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council, said: “The euro has come a long way — it’s a true European achievement. I would even say the euro has become part of who we are. And how we see ourselves as Europeans. Part of our mind-set. And part of our European spirit. The euro belongs to all of us all European citizens. But it isn’t just a success within our EU borders. It has also anchored itself on the international stage. Despite the crises, the euro has proven to be resilient — a symbol of European unity and stability. And never has that been truer than during COVID-19. The euro has served as a bedrock of stability. A stable asset for the Union. The euro also fuels our recovery. Unlocking the full potential of sustainable development, quality jobs, and innovation.”

Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, said: “The euros we hold in our hands have become a beacon of stability and solidity around the world. Hundreds of millions of Europeans trust it and transact with it every day. It is the second most international currency in the world. As European Central Bank President, I commit we will continue to work hard to make sure that we maintain price stability. And I also pledge that we will renew the face of those banknotes and that we will give them the digital dimension as well.”

Paschal Donohoe, President of the Eurogroup, said: “The euro has proven its mettle in dealing with great economic challenges. In particular, our response to the COVID 19 pandemic demonstrated that by sharing the euro we can achieve more collectively than we can individually. The euro has strengthened its foundations over the last 20 years. Now, we need to build on those foundations to make the euro the global currency for transitioning to a lower carbon future.”

A long journey

The euro has come a long way from the early discussions on an Economic and Monetary Union in the late 1960s. Specific steps towards a single currency were first approached in 1988 by the Delors Committee. In 1992, the Maastricht Treaty marked a decisive moment in the move towards the euro, as political leaders signed on the criteria that Member States had to meet to adopt the single currency. Two years later, the European Monetary Institute (EMI) started its preparatory work in Frankfurt for the European Central Bank (ECB) to assume its responsibility for monetary policy in the euro area. As a result, on 1 June 1998, the ECB became operational.

In 1999, the euro was launched in 11 Member States as an accounting currency on financial markets and used for electronic payments. It was finally on 1 January 2002 when Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain swapped their national notes and coins for euros. Slovenia joined the euro area in 2007, followed by Cyprus and Malta (2008), Slovakia (2009), Estonia (2011), Latvia (2014) and Lithuania (2015). Currently, Croatia is taking the preparatory steps to join the euro area, which it plans to do on 1 January 2023, provided it fulfils all the convergence criteria.

Twenty years of benefits for citizens and businesses

The euro has brought many benefits to Europe, especially to its citizens and businesses. The single currency has helped to keep prices stable and protected the euro area economies from exchange rate volatility. This has made it easier for European home buyers, businesses and governments to borrow money and has encouraged trade within Europe and beyond. The euro has also eliminated the need for currency exchange and has lowered the costs of transferring money, making travelling and moving to another country to work, study or retire simpler.

A large majority of Europeans support the single currency. According to the latest Eurobarometer, 78% of citizens across the euro area believe the euro is good for the EU.

A strengthened international role

The euro is the second most important currency in the international monetary system. Its stability and credibility has made it an international invoicing currency, a store of value and a reserve currency, accounting for around 20% of foreign exchange reserves. Sixty other countries and territories around the world, home to some 175 million people, have chosen to use the euro as their currency or to peg their own currency to it. Today, the euro is used for almost 40% of global cross-border payments and for more than half the EU’s exports.

Since the global financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent sovereign debt crisis, the EU has continued to strengthen and deepen the Economic and Monetary Union. The EU’s unprecedented recovery plan NextGenerationEU will further improve the euro-area’s economic resilience and enhance economic convergence. The issuance of high-quality-denominated bonds under NextGenerationEU will add significant depth and liquidity to the EU’s capital markets and make them and the euro more attractive for investors. The euro is also now the leading currency for green investment: half of the world’s green bonds are denominated in euros, and this figure is rising thanks to the new green bonds issued to finance NextGenerationEU.

To further develop the international role of the euro, the Commission has launched outreach initiatives to promote euro denominated investments, facilitate the use of the euro as an invoicing and denomination currency, and foster a better understanding of the obstacles for its wider use. This outreach will take the form of dialogues, workshops and surveys with the public and private sector, financial regulatory agencies, and institutional investors in regional and global partner countries of the EU.

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