The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has said that European nations’ attempts to tackle the coronavirus outbreak independently are doomed to fail as “no member state can handle this crisis on their own”.
Leyen indicated that European countries had misguidedly acted alone when seeking to respond to the virus and have consequently paid a hefty price.
In a speech to the European Parliament Plenary on the European coordinated response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Von der Leyen said: “ Our role as Europe's institutions, policy makers and leaders is to show that same trust, that same unity and that same leadership. We all share this responsibility. None of us can do it alone and certainly no member state can handle this crisis on their own. Because in this crisis, and in our Union more generally, it is only by helping each other that we can help ourselves.”
However, she added that the story from the last few weeks had been “partly a painful one to tell” as too many European nations had initially looked after themselves when seeking to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. “When Europe really needed an ‘all for one' spirit, too many initially gave an ‘only for me' response,” she said. “And when Europe really needed to prove that this is not only a ‘fair weather Union', too many initially refused to share their umbrella.”
Facing the consequences
As a result, Von der Leyen said it had not been long before “some felt the consequences of their own uncoordinated action”. She continued: “This is why over the last few weeks we took exceptional and extraordinary measures to coordinate and enable the action that is needed.”
Von der Leyen said crucial medical equipment had been “stuck in bottlenecks or at borders for days”.
She added: “This is why we had to take matters into our own hands as far as we could to release these blockades. This is why we are creating the first ever European stockpile of medical equipment, such as ventilators, masks and lab supplies. The Commission will finance 90 per cent of this stockpile through RescEU. This is why we launched several joint procurements with member states for testing kits, ventilators and protective equipment. 25 member states joined the latter. And there is good news: since Tuesday, we know that their demands for masks, gloves, goggles, face-shields can be matched by the producers. The first deliveries should start in the coming weeks.”
Von der Leyen added that, because knowledge would save lives in a pandemic, the European commission had “set up a European team of scientists, experts to help us come up with coordinated measures that we all can follow”. She continued: “I personally chair these discussions twice a week. Doing so has only deepened my conviction that we will need to draw on all that makes us strong to get through this together and then to get back on our feet again.”
Single market is biggest asset
Europe’s single market was the strongest asset the continent had in the fight against the coronavirus, Von der Leyen said. “A successful European response can only be coordinated if our Internal Market and our Schengen area work the way it should,” she added.
Von der Leyen said that the erection of barriers between nations at this time was nonsense. “A crisis without borders cannot be resolved by putting barriers between us,” she said. “And yet, this is exactly the first reflex that many European countries had. This simply makes no sense. Because there is not one single member state that can meet its own needs when it comes to vital medical supplies and equipment. Not one.”
Von der Leyen said the priority now was to ensure the European Union was “there for those that need it”. She added: “This is why we launched the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative to help direct €37 billion to mitigate the impact of the crisis, to save lives, jobs and businesses. This is why we adopted the most flexible ever temporary rules on state aid to enable member states to give a lifeline to their businesses. The first cases were approved in record time, within a matter of hours.”
Ensuring the EU was there for most in need was also the reason behind the activation of the general escape clause in the Stability and Growth Pact, Von der Leyen said. “That means that member states can use all the firepower they have to support those in work or those out of work, to support businesses small and big, and to support people through these tough times.”