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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

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 Politics

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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EU Politics

EU Digital COVID Certificate: Parliament and Council reach agreement

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Photo: Lukas Souza/Unsplash

The Commission welcomes today’s provisional political agreement between the European Parliament and the Council on the Regulation governing the EU Digital COVID Certificate. This means that the certificate (previously called the Digital Green Certificate) is well on track to be ready end of June, as planned. Today’s agreement has been reached in record time just two months after the Commission’s proposal. The negotiations on the certificate for the Commission have been led by Commissioner Didier Reynders in close cooperation with Vice-Presidents Vera Jourová and Margaritis Schinas and Commissioners Thierry Breton, Stella Kyriakides, and Ylva Johansson.

Welcoming this swift progress, President Ursula von der Leyen said:

“We are delivering on our commitment to have the EU Digital COVID Certificate up and running before the summer. European citizens are looking forward to travelling again, and today’s agreement means they will be able to do so safely very soon.

The EU Digital COVID Certificate is free of charge, secure and accessible to all. It will cover vaccination, test and recovery offering different options to the citizens. It fully respects citizens’ fundamental rights, including protection of personal data.

All EU citizens have a fundamental right to free movement in the EU. The EU Digital COVID Certificate, available in paper or digital format, will make it easier for Europeans to travel – whether to see their families and loved ones or to get some well-deserved rest.

We would like to thank the European Parliament and the Portuguese Presidency for their dedication, perseverance and immense work at record speed to find an agreement on the proposal we presented.

Work still remains. At EU level, the system will be ready in the next few days. It is now crucial that all Member States press ahead with the roll-out of their national systems to ensure that the system can be up and running as soon as possible. This is what EU citizens rightly expect.

Today’s agreement has demonstrated that with the commitment and cooperation of all, the EU Digital COVID Certificate will be available on time.”

The EU Digital COVID Certificate – key features

Following the agreement reached by the European Parliament and the Council, the EU Digital COVID Certificate:

  • will cover vaccination, test and recovery;
  • will be available in a digital and paper-based format, depending on the choice of the recipients, and contain a digitally signed QR code;
  • will be free of charge, be obtained easily and also available to persons vaccinated before the EU Digital COVID Certificate Regulation has entered into force;
  • may also be used by Member States for national purposes, if this is provided for in national law.
  • 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.
  • The Commission will also mobilise €100 million to support Member States in providing affordable tests.

Next Steps

The political agreement will now have to be formally adopted by the European Parliament and the Council. The Regulation will enter into force on 1 July, with a phasing-in period of six weeks for the issuance of certificates for those Member States that need additional time.

In parallel, the Commission will continue to support the Member States in finalising their national solutions for the issuance and verification of EU Digital COVID Certificate, and to provide technical and financial support to Member States to on-board the gateway.

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 COVID-19 pandemic. At the Commission’s request, the Parliament voted in favour of the activation of the urgent procedure for the two proposals on 25 March. The Council adopted its negotiating position on 14 April, and the Parliament did so on 29 April. On 20 May co-legislators reached provisional agreement on this file.

In parallel to the legislative process, important progress was already made on the technical side. The EU Gateway, which allows to verify certificates across borders, is ready and will go live as of June. Successful pilot tests took place with 17 Member States and Iceland during the last two weeks, further five Member States will test next week.

The Commission also provide open source reference software to support Member States to develop their national solution to issue certificates, to scan and check the QR codes, and a reference wallet for storage.

Previously, on 21 April, technical specification guidelines were adopted by Member States representatives in the eHealth Network, a voluntary network connecting national authorities responsible for eHealth. They are building on the close work of the Commission with the Member States, having resulted in first guidelines adopted in January and updated on 12 March, and a trust framework outline agreed on 12 March 2021. In addition, a common design template was developed in the eHealth network.

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