For a coordinated EU response to tackle the COVID-19 health emergency

Resolution submitted by the Political Commission 2 – Internal European Affairs
Resolution adopted by the online Federal Committee on 5 April 2020

On February 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic. In Europe, the virus has spread exponentially, causing the greatest public health emergency since World War II. Concerns about a possible economic recession and social crisis comparable to those caused by the 2008 financial crisis have been growing among experts, governments and European institutions. The Member States have been taking measures to mitigate the public health crisis and protect the economy within their respective national borders. However, these decisions are neither sufficient nor effective and have instead caused serious problems as there has not been a joint response from the outset at European level. The lack of European coordination has shown that the Treaties do not provide the EU with the strong instruments necessary to face transnational health emergencies such as infectious diseases, which do not know borders.

JEF Europe,

  • Recalling how the project of the European Union, as envisaged by the founding Fathers and Mothers, was aimed at the creation of the European Federation as the only possible way to preserve peace and stability;
  • Honouring those who have suffered and those who are suffering from this virus,
  • Declaring our respect, support and admiration for those carrying out essential work, such as but not limited to medical staff, researchers, supermarket employees and journalists;
  • Recognising COVID-19 as a transnational threat that demonstrates the inadequacy of nation states towards transnational catastrophes, whereas federal institutions would be better equipped to respond to the crisis in line with of our values and our needs;
  • Strongly recalling that the European project was founded on the principle of solidarity as enshrined in Treaty of the European Union (TEU), the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the common constitutional traditions of the Member States;
  • Deeply concerned, as the EU is currently ill-equipped to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and, consequently, future emergencies related to infectious diseases;
  • Recalling that, according to Art. 168 TFEU, the European Union action with regards to public health shall support and complement national policies and, therefore, the EU’s ability to respond is limited in the current crisis;
  • Reiterating that the EU further complements national health policies by supporting the fields of research, education and monitoring;
  • Recognising the work carried out by the European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control through its guidelines to assess and monitor the emergency threat at European level since the COVID-19 outbreak;
  • Welcoming the EU’s initiative to promote research on COVID-19 by mobilising funding for vaccine, treatment and diagnostics under the Horizon 2020 research programme and the European Innovation Council;
  • Deeply regretting that Member States have taken un-coordinated national responses that can damage European health systems and economy;
  • Alarmed by the initial attempts of some Member States’ governments to limit exports of masks and other personal protective equipment to other EU countries;
  • Noting the European Commission’s implementation of regulation, the so-called “EU-wide export ban”, aimed at protecting the availability of supplies of personal protective equipment within the EU;
  • Welcoming the European Commission’s commitment to start infringement proceedings against those Member States willing to ban trade of personal protective equipment within the EU;
  • Observing with appreciation the initiatives taken within the EU by companies to transform their production towards urgently needed medical and healthcare equipment;
  • Noting with deep concern that, lacking  a single European answer in the framework of the current intergovernmental system, some Member States’ governments use the exceptional circumstances to justify the implementation of non-proportional measures, not complying with the EU principles of rule of law and Human Rights, such as pausing parliamentary work;
  • Concerned in particular by the measures passed by Prime Minister Orbán in Hungary on 31 March 2020, suspending parliament, announcing a state of emergency without a time limit, restricting the powers of mayors and making spreading “fake news” an imprisonable offence;
  • Noting further the very reduced meeting calendar of the European Parliament;
  • Alarmed by the living conditions in refugee camps and the fact that asylum requests have been put on hold in certain spots at the EU external borders, allegedly due to the pandemic;
  • Repeating the call of UN Secretary-General António Guterres for the “immediate global ceasefire” amid the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Applauding the individual initiatives that have made it possible to take patients from France and Italy to hospitals in Germany and Luxembourg, as acts of true cross-border and European solidarity;
  • Noting with satisfaction the donation by the Czech Republic of personal protective equipment to both Italy and Spain;
  • Expressing its appreciation for the European Commission’s offer of up to €80 million in financial support to German company CureVac to develop a vaccine against COVID-19;
  • Welcoming the European Central Bank’s decision to increase the pace of  asset purchases from the public and private sector to a total of 1.14 trillion euros for 2020, and the diversification of purchases under the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP);
  • Further welcoming the measures tabled by the European Commission and approved by the European Parliament and the Council regarding the “Corona Response Investment Initiative”, which aims to channel €37 billion from available EU funds as soon as possible to those most hit by the COVID-19 pandemic; as well as the extension of the EU Solidarity Fund to cover public health emergencies that will make up to to €800 million;
  • Appreciating the proposal of the short-time work scheme SURE by the European Commission guaranteed by all Member States;
  • Recalling its support for Eurobonds, a debt security issued by the EU and backed by the EU budget, as an essential element of a fiscal union and therefore of the completion of the Economic and Monetary Union;
  • Recalling that the European Stability Mechanism, an institution born out of the Eurozone Crisis of the mid-2010s, was not designed for crises affecting the EU as a whole in the same manner (i.e., a “symmetric shock”);
  • Recognizing that all emergency measures must be understood as an intermediate response, towards fiscal and budgetary reforms of the European setup to guarantee, in the near future, the sustainability of European common goods;
  • Regretting that the European Council has failed to agree on a meaningful economic package to combat the COVID-19 health emergency, demonstrating once more that supranational institutions representing Europe as a whole deliver better than inter-governmental institutions just representing national governments;
  • Alarmed by the temporary border closures between countries in the Schengen Area, especially as the virus does not halt at national borders;
  • Noting with concern the negative effects that aforementioned border closures have on people living in the European border regions, e.g. by hindering essential employees from going to work;
  • Highlighting that the border closures affect all European citizens as the transportation of essential goods is massively disrupted due to  traffic jams at internal borders;
  • Finding unacceptable that non-decisions of that kind, as well as the inadequacy of unilateral decisions of Member States and intergovernmental institutions, might make European citizens feel as if the EU is failing to deliver and protect them in critical times for Europe;
  • Warning that the European project can be severely threatened by the lack of long-term vision of some national governments when their leadership would be most needed;
  • Firmly underlining that this crisis reveals, even more deeply than others before, the necessity to create federal institutions able to govern globalization in a world rife with supranational challenges, providing a model to pursue the common interest of European and global citizens and to safeguard democratic guarantees and principles.

JEF Europe, therefore:

  1. Calls on the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Member States to enhance the EU’s coordination and improve its role in matters of public health, making use of what is already foreseen in Art 168.5 TFEU, encouraging a Health Union to strengthen the European Pillar of Social Rights;
  2. Calls on Member States to make use of the solidarity clause (Art. 222 TFEU), so that the Union can act jointly in the spirit of solidarity if a Member State is the victim of a natural disaster or a pandemic;
  3. Calls on the European Commission, based on the aforementioned articles of the Treaties, the 2011 Cross-Border Healthcare Directive and the individual actions from hospitals in cross-border areas, to launch an initiative to create a permanent EU mechanism for transborder treatment;
  4. Further calls on the European Commission, based on its competences on internal market, to encourage companies within the EU to switch their production to medical and healthcare equipment;
  5. Calls for the EU and the Member States to develop a coordinated  policy on matters of public health, in particular those with a transnational and cross-border dimension; calls furthermore, for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to be given wider competences, in particular in prescribing certain measures to restrict the spread of epidemics, thus going beyond the role of warning;
  6. Likewise calls for the creation of a EU storage system that would allow the EU to have a central supply of medicines and equipment;
  7. Further calls for coordination in communication and handling of available hospital capacities, and especially intensive care units in order to better balance out the number of patients and to preserve the right to the highest attainable standard of health;
  8. Calls for the establishment of an EU-wide health professionals network in order to facilitate the transfer of medical personnel between Member States in the event of a health problem that leads to medical systems’ saturation, regardless of the number of countries affected by such problem;
  9. Strongly encourages the Commission and the Member States to continue including the Western Balkans countries in the conversations and mechanisms to fight Covid-19, reiterating that the pandemic knows no borders;
  10. Underlines its commitment to the free movement of people, granted through Art. 21 TFEU and Art. 3(2) TEU, and enacted through the Schengen Agreement;
  11. Calls on the European institutions to monitor the rule of law situation throughout Europe and the proportionality  of the measures taken;
  12. Calls similarly on the Member States to  uphold the Rule of Law, highlighting particularly the role given to them within the General Affairs Council, as the Art. 7 processes seem to be stuck as of March 2020, as is the legislative proposal on a Union Mechanism for Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights;
  13. Encourages the European Parliament to scope out proper digital means of participating and voting, as its supranational voice is needed;
  14. Strongly encourages Member States to address the gender specific impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, support structures for parents and especially mothers that are put under financial strain by the pandemic or work in areas of systemic importance for our society should be made available, appreciation for these occupations including by securing fair payment in the future should be fostered, from unpaid care work, to income shocks, to increased domestic violence, women are impacted differently by the crisis, therefore we call on Member States and the European Commission to facilitate the collection of gender specific data during and relating to this pandemic in order to better understand gender specific impacts of future pandemics;
  15. Underlines its support for the initiative #leavenoonebehind;
  16. Calls for economic measures financed by European resources and managed at the European level that shall aim to preserve employment levels, so as to considerably enhance the scope of the SURE Initiative;
  17. Strongly encourages to extend the aims of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) in order to allow its use without conditionality to finance the immediate strengthening of European and national health systems to deal with the pandemic, which is a threat to public health and also to the economic and financial stability of the EU;
  18. Calls on the European Council to agree on issuing European bonds in the form of joint debt issuance, through Treaty change if necessary, managed by the European Commission and guaranteed by the EU budget, that could be used initially to finance a pan-European plan of economic recovery and social cohesion following the pandemic, as well as to finance the Green Deal and the European response to the digital transition, and to meet the United Nations Sustainable Goals, which require huge investments to radically transform the European economy and society;
  19. Urges the European Council to facilitate the adoption of the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021 – 2027, in a way that the Union can deal with the crisis, i.e. consisting of at least 1.3% of European GDP, as requested by the European Parliament, extending the budget with its own resources, as suggested in the JEF resolution on the Multiannual Financial Framework, re-adopted on April 5, 2020, as well as its other resolutions;
  20. Calls for all economic stimulus and recovery packages at the European level to adhere to the visions of the European Green Deal, to contribute in the effort to green Europe’s energy sector, industries and businesses, while ensuring the stability of the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), through mechanisms such as the Market Stability Reserve (MSR);
  21. Calls for a  revision of the Treaties (Art. 168 TFEU)  to make public health a shared EU competence as the EU should be entrusted with real competences in the field of public health;
  22. Strongly encourages the EU to provide awareness to citizens about the importance of vaccines and science-based solutions to the Covid-crisis.

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