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

Written by Clare Ferguson with Tom Smith, Updated on 13 July 2020

© European Union 2020 – Source : EP

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, the European Union (EU) and its Member States have implemented a number of radical measures to combat the spread of the virus and, more recently, to begin the process of reopening economies and returning to normal life. As the crisis has developed, it has introduced a variety of new challenges that have required quick and effective resolutions. In response to these challenges, the European Parliamentary Research Service has published a number of research papers on a wide range of subjects relevant to the coronavirus crisis.

The initial spread of the novel coronavirus rapidly intensified, with the World Health Organization designating the virus as a pandemic just a few months after the initial outbreak, leading to a need for emergency public health measures to save lives across the world. In response to this initial problem, the EU stepped in to play a coordinating role, complementing national policies to help countries face common challenges, such as a lack of sufficient healthcare organisation and provision, so that each Member State was better prepared for the healthcare challenges posed by the virus.

In March, following a special meeting by videoconference of the Heads of State or Government of the 27 EU Member States, the EU identified four specific priorities for its coronavirus response strategy:

  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.
EU_budgetary and financial response-V7-01
© European Union, 2020 –European Parliament / EPRS

In response to the designation of these four priorities, the EU worked quickly to deal with each one effectively. To limit the spread of the virus, the EU closed its borders to non-essential travel whilst introducing green lanes to enable essential goods to continue to move through the EU. To ensure Member States were able to access medical equipment, the EU created the first ever RescEU stockpile of medical equipment such as ventilators and protective masks, enabling Member States facing equipment shortages to quickly procure the supplies they needed. In terms of research, the EU’s Horizon 2020 research programme is funding 18 research programmes and 151 research teams across Europe, with researchers working on a variety of tasks, such as rapid point-of-care diagnostic tests and the development of vaccines and new treatments.An initial €45 million was committed to the project, whilst on 19 May 2020, a further €122 million was allocated to the programme. The EU has also worked to provide economic support to EU Member States, underlined by the recently revised proposal for the EU multiannual financial framework, including a €750 billion fiscal stimulus to enable Member States to cope with the economic impact of coronavirus (€500 billion in grants and €250 billion in loans), along with other flexibility measures and monetary stimulus.

Examples of false narratives trending on social media
Examples of false narratives trending on social media

As the focus now turns to the issue of safely reopening European economies, the EU has proposed a number of ideas that would enable the safe resumption of travel within the EU. The proposals argue for a common EU approach to lifting travel restrictions, which would provide a much-needed boost to the travel industry, a key component of the European economy.

As well as providing support on issues such as healthcare and the economy, the EU has also worked to combat the Covid-19 ‘infodemic’ that has accompanied the pandemic. EU citizens need to be able to trust the information they receive on such a vital issue, and the EU has provided a number of resources which help to prevent the dissemination of such harmful disinformation, ensuring that EU citizens are able to distinguish between what is true and what is not. Support has also been strengthened for the Health Security Committee to provide aligned information throughout the EU on the virus.

EPRS publications on the topic include:

On the impact of the crisis and the EU’s response:

Economic and Social Policies

EU Financing / Budgetary Affairs

Institutional and Legal Affairs

International Relations

Structural and Cohesion Policies

The EU’s institutions and Covid-19:

What Think Tanks are thinking:

Links to recent commentaries and reports from international think tanks:

European Science–Media Hub

Scientific aspects of the crisis, from the ESMH, set up by EPRS on behalf of Parliament’s Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) to build better links between science, policy-makers and the media.


Schengen restrictions on land borders
Schengen restrictions on sea borders
Schengen restrictions on air borders
EU CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE

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