The Letter n°886

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The Letter n°886
The Letter
Tuesday 7th April 2020
issue 886
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The European Union and the Coronavirus
Author : Nicolas-Jean Brehon
Nicolas-Jean Brehon
It is not uncommon to hear criticism of the weakness of the European Union's response to the Covid-19 health crisis. These criticisms are most often unfounded insofar as the Union can only be, as the Treaties currently stand, a secondary player in health policies. But if the lack of competence is an excuse, it does not excuse everything. At the beginning of the crisis, the lack of solidarity between Member States was obvious. The economic consequences that will follow require adjustments that risk undermining certain rules that Europeans have taken a long time to build. They could affect the very meaning of European integration.
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Front Page : Now or never
In the face of the coronavirus crisis and its economic consequences, the Union needs a major act that voluntarily expresses its solidarity, writes Jean-Dominique Giuliani. If the Member States agree to pool the reconstruction effort, European integration will have given irrefutable proof of its usefulness... Read more

Foundation : Covid-19: the seed of renewal?
While the coronavirus pandemic is shaking up the global political landscape, the challenges facing Europe are immense, such as health in Europe and strategic autonomy. Success will depend on Europe's willingness to transcend its national egoisms," writes Françoise Grossetête, special advisor to the Foundation... Read more
Covid-19: fight against economic collapse
Several solutions are being discussed to limit the impact of the coronavirus and boost the European economy, such as "coronabonds" or intervention by the European Stability Mechanism. Another possibility is to allow the Union to borrow to finance its own spending in the fight against the pandemic, writes former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton... Read more
Covid-19: European respones, a complete picture
Faced with the health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Union is trying to deploy the various means at its disposal. In order to react and be resilient for the future, its ability to act depends to a large extent on the Member States and their resolve to act together. The Foundation offers you a summary of all the measures taken at national and European level, which we update regularly... Read more

Commission : Europe will get through thanks to solidarity
The President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, spoke on 4 April about the coronavirus crisis. She felt that although the Union had been slow in its initial response, it had been able to adapt, in particular by relaxing the budgetary rules, ensuring medical solidarity between States and making available €100 billion in loans to the Member States through the SURE programme. She called for a Marshall Plan, based on an ambitious multiannual budget to revive the European economy after the crisis... Read more
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Coronavirus : European Leaders' Forums
Several European officials have spoken in the European press. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called for "proof of real commitment" and "strong solidarity" from its European partners. European Commissioners Thierry Breton and Paolo Gentiloni called for the creation of a European Recovery Fund. German Finance and Foreign Ministers Olaf Scholz and Heiko Maas detailed their ideas on a "solidarity response" to the crisis. The Speakers of the National Assembly and the Bundestag, Richard Ferrand and Wolfgang Schäuble, assured that France and Germany are working together to ensure that Europe overcomes the crisis... Read more
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European budgetary measures
On 2 April, the Commission proposed an adjustment of the EU budget by €3 billion to finance the flexibility instrument. This sum should enable the Union to deal with the consequences of the coronavirus epidemic and increase the budget of the RescEU medical equipment reserve. This comes on top of the €423 million requested on 27 March to help Greece cope with migratory pressures, increase the budget of the European Public Prosecutor's Office and finance the first measures relating to the coronavirus... Read more
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European support to partial unemployment
On 2 April the Commission presented its plan to address the economic difficulties related to the coronavirus. It consists of the €100 billion SURE programme, comprising soft loans to help States finance their short-time working schemes. The plan also includes making the rules of the Cohesion Funds more flexible to maximise their use, particularly by fishermen and farmers, and allocating the remaining €3 billion from the EU budget to Member States' health systems. Finally, the Commission will adapt its aid fund for the most deprived to secure their access to food aid... Read more
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Treatment of patients and deployment of cross-border healthcare workers
On 3 April the Commission published its guidelines on cross-border processing and deployment of carers in the EU. The Commission will coordinate the distribution of health aid and patients through its Health Security Committee, finance patient movement through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and clarify the conditions for cross-border patient mobility. It encourages the mobility of carers and the sharing of information and recalls that health expenditure is eligible for structural funds... Read more
Suspension of customs duties and VAT on imports of medical materials
The Commission temporarily waived, on 3 April, the levying of customs duties and VAT on imports of medical equipment "in order to contribute to the fight against the coronavirus". In particular, this measure concerns masks and protective equipment, as well as testing kits and ventilators... Read more
Guidelines on the free-movement of workers
On 30 March the Commission published its guidelines on the free movement of key workers during the coronavirus crisis. It established a non-exhaustive list of workers whose mobility across borders should be facilitated. This is particularly the case for medical staff and home helps. The Commission hopes that seasonal workers will also be considered as key workers, according to the needs of the Member States... Read more
Confinement until 13 April
On 1 April, the President of the Italian Council Giuseppe Conte announced the extension of the containment until 13 April, while the government is preparing a multi-stage deconfinement plan. As of 5 April, there were 128,948 cases and 15,887 deaths in Italy... Read more
The EIB steps up its economic response to the crisis
The European Investment Bank announced on 3 April that it was stepping up its support measures for the economy in response to the crisis caused by the coronavirus epidemic. It announced the creation of a €25 billion guarantee fund, which will be able to cover up to €200 billion of debts owed by companies in the Member States. It has also released €5 billion to help European SMEs mobilise up to €40 billion in financing and will fund research initiatives to eradicate the coronavirus... Read more
Declarations regarding the rule of law during the crisis
Following the vote on a law extending the powers of the Hungarian Government for an unlimited period, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recalled in a statement on 31 March the importance of preserving democracy, the rule of law and freedom of the press in the Member States. She stressed that the measures must be proportionate and limited in time and that the Commission will verify their application by the Member States. On 2 April, 16 Member States of the Union called for the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights not to be undermined and gave their support to the Commission. Hungary indicated that it wished to associate itself with the declaration... Read more
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Help to the Union's neighbourhood
On 30 March the Commission announced the mobilisation of €38 million for the Western Balkan countries and €140 million for the Eastern Partnership countries to help them address urgent health needs. A further €374 million and €700 million respectively will be added to compensate for the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic. The funds will be used in particular for the delivery of medical equipment, but also to provide credit for SMEs that have been particularly affected... Read more
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Military coordination in the fight against coronavirus
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced on 2 April that Allied Foreign Ministers have tasked NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, General Ted Wolters, to coordinate the military response to the crisis. The Alliance had already begun to address logistical and medical assistance issues. It will now also be able to use the fast lanes of European airspace to transport medical equipment... Read more
WHO warns against lifting measures too quickly
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned States on 3 April against lifting containment measures too quickly, which could lead to a resurgence of the coronavirus and worsen the economic impact of the epidemic. He called on States to focus on health spending to ensure that hospitals and other health institutions remain well-equipped. He assured that cooperation continues between WHO, IMF and the World Bank... Read more
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Support measures to the economy
On 31 March, the Spanish government announced new measures to protect businesses and the self-employed, such as the suspension of payments, microcredits and a six-month ban on evictions. On 6 April, the President of the Italian Council Giuseppe Conte announced a €400 billion plan to support businesses in the Italian market and export. All in all, the economic measures taken by the Member States together account for around 3% of the euro area's GDP... Read more
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National Measures
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced on 4 April the extension of the containment until 25 April, and in Germany the restrictive measures have been extended until 19 April. In France and Belgium, the authorities suggested that the measures would be extended beyond 15 and 19 April. In the United Kingdom, where unlimited containment remains in place and where Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized on 5 April due to persistent symptoms of Covid-19, Queen Elizabeth II called on her subjects to remain "united and determined". In the Netherlands, severe movement restrictions will remain in place until 28 April, while Sweden remains so far the only EU country not to restrict travel and leave schools open. On 6 April, Austria announced the reopening of shops from 14 April, and Denmark announced the reopening of schools by 15 April... Read more
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Diplomacy : Meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers
On 3 April, foreign ministers discussed the coordination of repatriation operations for European nationals, the need to help the most vulnerable countries, particularly in Africa, to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as disinformation campaigns on the pandemic from abroad... Read more
Launch of the Irini operation in Mediteranean
On 31 March the European Union launched Irini, a new military operation to monitor the UN arms embargo on Libya. Its mission is to verify the implementation of the arms embargo in Libya, to combat illegal oil exports and trafficking in human beings, and to train the Libyan Coast Guard... Read more
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European trigger Instex to deliver medical material to Iran
On 31 March, Europe activated the Instex trade exchange mechanism for the first time to deliver medical equipment to Iran, which was hit hard by the Covid-19, without exposing itself to US sanctions. This mechanism was created by Paris, Berlin and London, co-signatories of the Iranian nuclear agreement, after the United States withdrew from the agreement in May 2018 and reintroduced US sanctions... Read more

Court of Justice : Refugee relocation: Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic did not respect their commitments
In a judgment delivered on 2 April, the European Court of Justice ruled that by refusing to comply with the 2015 temporary mechanism for the relocation of asylum seekers, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic failed to fulfil their obligations under EU law. The Czech Republic had relocated 12 persons instead of 50, Poland none, while Hungary had refused to make quantified commitments. Budapest and Warsaw had invoked the violation of public order and the safeguarding of internal security, while Prague had referred to a malfunctioning of the mechanism. These arguments were rejected by the Court... Read more
Advocate General's opinion about Volkswagen
In an Opinion delivered by the Advocate General of the Court of Justice on 2 April, purchasers of a Volkswagen vehicle whose engine has been tampered with in order to conceal the level of emissions may sue the manufacturer in the State where the vehicle was purchased, and not only in the State of the defendant... Read more
Decision on extraditions of EFTA country citizens
In a judgment delivered on 2 April, the Court of Justice ruled that when a Member State has to respond to an extradition request from a third State concerning a national of a European Free Trade Association (EFTA) State, party to the Agreement on the European Economic Area, it must check that the national is not in danger of being subjected to the death penalty or torture. It had received the case of a naturalized Icelandic national from Russia wanted by the Moscow office of Interpol and arrested in Croatia... Read more

ECB : Postponement of the assessment period of the monetary policy strategy
The Governing Council of the European Central Bank decided on 2 April to postpone the assessment of its monetary policy strategy until mid-2021, rather than the end of 2020 as originally planned, in order to focus on the coronavirus crisis. The citizens' consultations organised as part of the "ECB listens to you" programme have been postponed and can now take place online... Read more

European Agencies : Recommendations on the use of experimental treatment
The European Medicines Agency issued recommendations on April 2 on the use of investigational therapies to combat Covid-19 as part of the compassionate use programmes. At the request of Estonia, Greece, the Netherlands and Romania, it authorises the use of Remesivir, an antiviral drug effective in cases of SARS and MERS viruses, in an approach that is both fair and transparent, and above all according to common criteria and conditions of use... Read more

Poland : Amendments to the Electoral Code
On 6 April, the Polish Parliament adopted an amendment to the electoral code providing for postal voting for the presidential election scheduled for 10 and 24 May, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions on movement and assembly. There is a clause allowing the vote to be postponed, but no later than 17 May. This decision, which runs counter to a Constitutional Court ruling prohibiting changes to the electoral code less than six months before the election, was strongly criticised by the opposition... Read more

UK : New Labour leader
Keir Starmer, a former lawyer and MP since 2015, was elected leader of the British Labour Party on 4 April. He called for constructive cooperation with the government of Boris Johnson in the fight against the coronavirus and to combat anti-Semitism. His 10-point policy plan incorporates some of the proposals of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, such as the nationalisation of the railways and the post office and the repeal of anti-union laws... Read more
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Council of Europe : Report on the execution of ECHR decisions
The Council of Europe has published its report on the supervision of the execution of judgments and decisions of the ECHR for the year 2019. The report shows an increasing application in the execution of the Court's judgments compared to the decade 2000-2010. However, it points to shortcomings, linked to national actors, lack of resources, or even disagreement with certain judgments... Read more
Report on the fight to counter human trafficking
On 3 April, the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) delivered its general report on its activities for the year 2019. Among other things, it highlights, for 42 of the 47 State Parties, shortcomings in the identification of child and adult victims of trafficking and gaps in assistance and support for victims. It also invites States to strengthen sanctions against traffickers... Read more

NATO : Appointment of a group of experts on the future of the Alliance
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced on 31 March the appointment of a group of experts regarding the future of the Alliance, following the 4 December London Summit. Chaired by former German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière and US diplomat Wess Mitchell, the group will provide recommendations for strengthening NATO's unity, coordination of members and political role... Read more

Eurostat : Decline in unemployment in February
Unemployment has continued to fall and stood at 6.5% in the European Union and 7.3% in the euro-zone in February, according to a Eurostat news release issued on 1 April. The lowest unemployment rate was registered in the Czech Republic with 2%, while Spain (13.6%) and Greece (16.9%) had the most people unemployed in December... Read more
Drop in citizenship acquisitions in 2018
672 300 people obtained citizenship of one of the Member States of the Union in 2018, according to data published by Eurostat on 30 March, compared with almost 700 000 in 2017 and 850 000 in 2016. Moroccans (10%), Albanians (7%) and Turks (4%) are the main recipients... Read more

Culture : Tribute to Krzysztof Penderecki
The National Audiovisual Institute of Poland is putting online a documentary, with texts and videos, about an exceptional concert given in 2011 by the Polish composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki, who died on March 29th at the age of 86, in collaboration with the British musician Aphex Twin and the guitarist of the rock band Radiohead Jonny Greenwood... Read more
Consult the documents of the British Library
The British Library offers access to over 35,000 illustrated books and manuscripts. The interface allows readers to enlarge or reduce the size of works to see even more detail... Read more
Virtual Versailles
The Palace of Versailles offers on its website five virtual thematic exhibitions, on Louis XIV, fashion at Versailles and royal meals. Developed especially for the web, these interactive exhibitions combine paintings, photos, videos and audio commentary... Read more
Berliner Ensemble at home
The Berliner Ensemble, one of the most important theatres in the German capital, will be presenting one of its productions every Friday. Archives, tours and exhibitions are also available... Read more
The works of the Royal Academy in Madrid
The San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid is offering a virtual collection of works of architecture, paintings, sculptures and decorative arts, mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries... Read more

6th April

Videoconference of Defence Ministers
Videoconference of Justice Ministers

7th April

Videoconference of Eurogroup Finance Ministers
Videoconference of Research Ministers

8th April

Videoconference of Development Ministers
Videoconference of Culture Ministers

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