European Union to spearhead int’l response to the coronavirus pandemic

The outbreak of COVID-19, the coronavirus, declared a pandemic by the WHO, was a major shock to the world, Europe, and Israel. While the pandemic is evidence of how closely connected the world is today, there is no doubt that global cooperation and solidarity are being tested. Yet its spread would be even more devastating without scientific, medical, humanitarian and political cooperation.The most tangible tribute to the thousands of victims of COVID-19 and to all those who tirelessly serve on the pandemic front lines, is our determination to join forces to promote medical research and enhance our healthcare systems. This is a global crisis that needs strong international solidarity and cooperation, and this is what the European Union is for.

Our focus is to help those in need – first, through unprecedented European solidarity during an epidemic; second, by massively supporting the economic resilience of Europe, Israel’s biggest trade partner; and last but not least, by spearheading the international response through cooperation.At the initial stages, EU member states naturally reacted nationally, as public health is a national competence. But our countries quickly realized that we can defeat this pandemic only together, as a union. Once the gravity of what we were facing became clearer, the EU’s mechanisms for crisis response were quickly put into action.Within the EU, more than ever, all member states extended solidarity to one another. They provided millions of masks to assist those facing shortages; took in COVID-19 patients from other EU countries, and sent doctors and nurses to treat patients in hard-hit countries. All EU member states, small and large, assisted in repatriating fellow EU nationals from abroad. In total, we have brought home more than 480,000 Europeans – the EU itself having funded more than 30 flights for over 26,000 EU and UK nationals – and helped hundreds of Israelis to come back home. Across the continent, we have seen heartening public shows of solidarity.The EU created a strategic stockpile of medical equipment (such as ventilators and protective masks) to help EU countries in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and set up a huge international tender to make joint purchases of equipment and drugs for member states.From the outset, EU member states took clear, tough measures, based on the best available scientific expertise. The EU established green lanes to ensure that freight and goods can still be transported efficiently across the EU borders. Meanwhile, to slow the transmission of the coronavirus through international travel, the EU decided to apply a temporary restriction on nonessential travel from third countries to the EU. These measures are for the protection of all.

The EU is also harnessing its scientific and technological research to fight COVID-19, and here we have launched cooperative projects with Israel, while upping support to the World Health Organization (WHO). The EU’s Horizon 2020 research program is using €140 million to fund scientific teams across Europe as well as in partner countries, including Israel, to help find a vaccine to COVID-19 quickly. The aim is to improve diagnostics, preparedness, clinical management and treatment.The socioeconomic fallout of the crisis is also of great concern, in the EU and in Israel. In this crisis, there can be no half measures. We will need massive investment in the form of a European Marshall Plan. The EU has rapidly agreed on more far-reaching measures of financial solidarity than even in the financial crisis of 2008.The EU stability pact has been suspended, and more flexible rules for state aid allow member states to take action. The EU budget provided €37 billion for immediate support. The European Central Bank announced an asset-purchase program worth €750b., and in total its emergency stimulus will amount to 7.3% of euro area GDP. Another EU scheme worth up to €100b. is being prepared to cover lost wages and preserve jobs. The Eurogroup put forward a €500b. package a few days ago. The European Investment Bank will provide €200b. to protect SMEs. The EU and its member states have in total already mobilized an arsenal of around €3 trillion to fight COVID-19 and its economic consequences together, and more ambitious instruments are under discussion. The EU will do whatever it takes.In parallel, the EU is supporting other countries with weaker health systems to fight coronavirus, in cooperation with the WHO. The EU secured over €15b. to help our partners worldwide from Africa, the Western Balkans, Ukraine, and the Middle East and North Africa. We have also stepped up our support to the Palestinian healthcare system.IN EVERY country, including in Israel, it has become clear that no one can face this alone.We have had to learn from each other, including what doesn’t work. How we react to the crisis will determine what the world will look after the virus threat passes. It is essential that we don’t allow the COVID-19 pandemic to be a cover for human rights abuses or irreversible restrictions to society and democracy. Open and accurate information is key. There is no place for narratives of blame, disinformation, conspiracies and rumors. Disinformation in the context of the coronavirus crisis can kill. No less.This is not the time for countries to compete, but to work together. What happens in the EU has much significance for Israel, not least because the EU is Israel’s leading trading partner. The more we stand together now, the quicker we will all pull through this crisis together.

by Emanuele Giaufret 

Head of EU Delegation to the State of Israel