COVID-19 – Novel coronavirus outbreak in Europe and the EU response

Written by Clare Ferguson,

© European Union 2020 – Source : EP

As the coronavirus crisis develops, and the European Union and its Member States take ever-more stringent action, the European Parliamentary Research Service is continuing to publish papers on the various aspects of the crisis and response to it.

The swift spread of a novel coronavirus from an initial outbreak in Wuhan, China in November 2019 to pandemic proportions in just a few short months, has led to a need for emergency public health measures to save lives across the world. In the European Union (EU), healthcare organisation and provision are Member State prerogatives and responsibilities, with the EU having limited scope to act. However, referring to World Health Organization guidelines, the European Union has stepped in to play a coordinating role, complementing national policies to help countries face the common challenge.

Following a special meeting by videoconference of the Heads of State or Government of the 27 EU Member States, also attended (virtually) by the European Commission, European Central Bank and Eurogroup Presidents, as well as the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, four priorities were agreed. Welcoming the proposals to act decisively to help national governments face the challenges posed by the spread of the virus, European Parliament President David Sassoli commented that ‘Parliament is ready to do its part to protect the lives and livelihoods of all our people. We will not give up living as Europeans.’ A second videoconference took place on 17 March, at which the leaders reaffirmed the need to act on the four areas. The regular European Council meeting planned for 26 March has now been postponed, with a further videoconference on the coronavirus response taking its place. As of 19 March, the ECB has committed to providing €750 billion to relieve government debt during the crisis, as well as €120 billion in quantitative easing measures and €20 billion in debt purchases.

The four priority areas in the EU’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak are:

  1. Limiting the spread of the virus, including assessing the risk and closing external borders so that internal borders can remain open to allow the single market to function.
  2. Ensuring the provision of medical equipment by ramping up production of medical devices, issuing calls for production of medical equipment, and negotiating new supplies.
  3. Helping researchers to find a vaccine quickly, through existing research programmes
  4. Aiding EU Member States to weather the social and economic impact of the pandemic.

At the same time, EU citizens need to be able to trust the information they receive on such a vital issue. Support has been strengthened for the Health Security Committee to provide aligned information throughout the EU on the virus. While an ‘infodemic’ of manipulated information has accompanied the the COVID-19 outbreak, the EU continues with its efforts to tackle such harmful disinformation.

EPRS publications on the topic include:

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