During the public hearing of the European Parliament’s PETI Committee, convened to discuss petitions related to the Covid-19 pandemic, Martin Seychell from DG HEALTH of the European Commission responded to Virginia Fiume, Eumans Coordinator and first signatory of the EU CAN DO IT petition. Part of the response was the announcement of the May 4th international pledging conference for a coronavirus global response.
You can watch the video of the hearing here
Below you can find the transcription of the speech.
I’d like to thank the petitioner for providing me with an opportunity to briefly explain what the Commission is doing to help address this unprecedented crisis that links with many of the aspects the petitioner mentioned.
First of all, I’d like to start by saying that the Commission is coordinating a strong European response to Covid-19, and this response is, as it has to be, multisectoral.
It is, of course, about health, this is fundamentally a health crisis but it’s also about civil protection, about economic recovery and about global action, which is something the petitioner rightfully emphasizes.
Covid-19 has illustrated, if anyone doubted that before, the paramount role that health systems plays in our societies and in our economies, and it underpins our societies. And it has also revealed to everyone that our health systems were not prepared in all respects to face this challenge, and we need to invest more, particularly in areas like primary care, prevention and others.
On health, the Commission role is to help Member States coordinate their National responses to Covid-19. This is being done under European decision on serious crossborder threats to health and we have already mobilized all the mechanisms available. We frequently convene the Health Security Committee to facilitate information sharing about national measures to contain Covid-19 and recently also a discussion has started about the gradual de-escalation of those measures.
We have also launched, accelerated, joint procurement procedures for key medical equipment, including protective gear for health workers, very important, but also for ventilators and laboratory equipment. In the light of this, the Commission has put all remaining allocations from the 2020 budget, an amount of 2.7 billion euros, to the emergency support instrument. With all of this going to finance health system needs, equipment, supplies and scaling up of testing and treatments.
We are also participating in the global race towards a much needed vaccine, which is the only way we can put this definitively behind us, and we have already secured just under 15 million euros from the Horizon2020 program for research on Covid-19 and, of course, other initiatives will follow in this respect. Now, regarding the protection of EU citizens, the Commission has been delivering from the start of the crisis via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism: we have facilitated more than 260 repatriation flights, bringing home more than 53000 EU citizens stranded abroad. We have helped Member States provide in-kind assistance and expertise to each other, which is a great example of European solidarity.
In addition, we have started stock-piling key medical equipment creating a first-of-its-kind rescue stockpile. Covid-19 is not just a health crisis, but as I’ve said, the first and foremost, it has also caused a major shock to European economies, which calls for a visionary strategy for economic recovery and, here as well, the Commission is taking action on all fronts. Large emergency packages have already been launched and together with the other institutions we are working on a comprehensive recovery plan, including a recovery fund. Resources will come from the overall EU budget via a solid reinforcement of the Multiannual Financial Framework, which is currently being revised.
We want to kickstart European economies after the crisis and, at the same time, and I would like to emphasize this, deliver on other priorities, such as the digital and the green transition. Moreover, the Commission has made available all the remaining financing under the structural funds for the fight against Covid-19 under the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative.
This is more than 37 billion euros in total, which is available to EU Member States this year through exceptional flexible and accelerated procedures. A second coronavirus response investment initiative has introduced extraordinary flexibility and simplification in the implementation of cohesion policy and included changes to the European aid to the most deprived to ensure that the most deprived, including homeless people and others, can continue to receive material assistance in a safe environment.
Member States can use their country specific allocations to mitigate the economic consequences of the crisis, for example to support their economies, their health systems, their working population or small and medium enterprises. In addition, the European Globalization Adjustment Fund can be used to support workers who have permanently lost their job because of Covid-19. But as the petitioner reminded us, global action is also needed. The Commission supports the WHO to boost preparedness, prevention and containment of Covid19 and we need to pay particular attention to countries with fragile health systems.
On May 4th, therefore, together with WHO, and other global health organizations, we will kickstart a global pledging effort: the coronavirus global response to close funding gaps, which we estimate to be around 7.5 billion euros. Honorable Members, dear petitioner, this is indeed a moment of truth and we need to ask ourselves, despite all our efforts, whether we are doing enough. Of course, we are all aware the EU has a limited mandate in heath, and the Commission can only step in to a certain extent, and Covid-19 shows us that there might be a need, there could be a need, to strengthen this mandate, and we must certainly discuss at the opportune time how to better deal with emergencies in future, and the great opportunity for this indeed be the Conference on the Future of Europe which will be held under due consideration to the current situation.
The time will come, and I hope soon, when we will be looking forward again and at that moment the lessons learnt from Covid-19 have to be central to our efforts and it will be our responsibility to offer perspective for the future of the EU and to give EU citizens a clear say in decision-making beyond participation in the European elections.
So, the Commission believes that it is really important that, in the light of all this, we discuss political priorities as well as the strategic agenda of the European Council, and there should be a robust feedback mechanism so that all ideas expressed are taken into account. We should also discuss, as the petitioner has also emphasized, the importance of the role that citizens play in not only speaking up, but also being listened to. Thank you very much.”Martin Seychell