The three emergency legislative proposals put forward by the Commission include immediate financial help to countries in need, sectoral help to industries in danger of collapse, and logistical and material help to get necessary medical and other equipment to where it is needed.
Each was passed by an overwhelming majority.
During the sombre debate, attended by only a fraction of members, with most following it online, Italian Socialist Brando Benifei said, “My thanks go to all the health staff who are keeping Italy and Europe on its feet.”
The MEP said, “We need an extra plan to rebuild from all this. We have to ensure that the EU response is up the challenge. As Mrs von der Leyen said here today, this is a European crisis, not one of Member States, so the cost of dealing with it has to be shared.”
“Parliament needs to send out a clear message that we have to fight this crisis together. If we fail we will have no further opportunity.”
Italian ID member Marco Campomenosi spoke of the huge death toll in his own country and added, “When it was time to help other countries over the years Italy has paid out millions.”
Frédérique Ries, a Belgian RE member, said, “This is a tragedy. The Commission has taken strong measures to deal with this economic tsunami and we will need a European Marshall Plan to deal with this. The world and the EU has been out of step on this and the US and India are making massive advances on possible ways of saving lives on possible treatments.”
She cautioned “Let us not fool ourselves: business as usual, after this, is not going to happen.”
“Let us not fool ourselves: business as usual, after this, is not going to happen” Frédérique Ries MEP
Bulgarian ECR deputy Angel Dzhambazki, also present in the chamber for the debate, said, “We must adopt these (Commission) measures and ensure that the single market continues functioning. We would all like to be experts on this issue but Member States like mine are suffering great losses so we have to keep working.”
Siegfried Muresan, an EPP Romanian MEP, said, “I am watching with concern at what is happening in Spain and everywhere so what we need now is solidarity. This can be achieved through concrete measures. We will adopt these EU measures today and want them to enter into force immediately. But we must also mobilise fresh resources to find a vaccine against Coronavirus and help SMEs.”
Further comment came from Pedro Marques, a Portuguese Socialist, who said, “We now face the new crisis of the century. First, it was a crisis of greed with the economic crisis and now we face this. This shows why we need more Europe because this virus does not recognise borders.”
Romanian RE deputy Dragos Pislaru said, “The EU has acted and this is good. We need to tell people these things. I would like today to give my condolences to the victims.”
Finnish ID member Laura Huhtasaari told the sparsely-attended meeting, “The world is on its knees and we need to fight against all this at national, EU and global level so we can go back to life as it was before.”
Another MEP present, Johan van Overtveldt, an ECR member from Belgium, called on EU member states to ensure that the “economic and social fabric is upheld,” adding, “We have to maintain safety and security and reduce risks as much as possible. If other EU programmes, even the Green Deal, have to be adjusted now then so be it.”
Irish GUE MEP Mick Wallace said health services had been “hollowed out” across Europe at a time when their services were “needed more than ever.”
His country, he said, stood to face a €15 billion bill in tackling the crisis.
“I am watching with concern at what is happening in Spain and everywhere so what we need now is solidarity” Siegfried Muresan MEP
He added, “Capitalism has failed the people: we cannot go back to where we were before.”
Elsewhere, Dutch member Sophie in ‘t Veld said she was glad the Parliament was still open and “functioning, even in times of crisis.”
She went on, “We will keep our distance here today in this meeting to help beat this monster. But to say the EU is doing nothing is untrue. It is taking action but I am still disappointed to see 27 countries working separately.
“A divided Europe is a weak Europe. So, we have to draw lessons from this for the new post-Corona world.
“Once normal life returns this Parliament needs to take the lead and help transform the EU.”
Alessandra Moretti, a Socialist from Italy, said, “This [pandemic] is on a biblical scale and we are at war. This virus has shown our fragility and we have to learn from our mistakes.”
“But I am proud of my country and thank all those key workers who in Italy and everywhere are continuing to work.”
“We now face the new crisis of the century. First, it was a crisis of greed with the economic crisis and now we face this” Pedro Marques MEP
Rounding up the debate, Maros Sefcovic, EU Commissioner for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight, told MEPs, “I know what the treaties say about health competence but we simply have to work together now and do it better. We have to do whatever is necessary.”
He outlined the current situation on vital medical equipment and added, “We in Europe need 30 million respirators weekly for at least the next three months. We also need 15,000 ventilators for the next three months but, currently, have only half of these.”
“However, I am pretty sure we will soon be able to provide Member States with this crucial technology.”
He also spoke of the economic fall-out which, he said, will continue “for several months.”
He concluded, “History is teaching us something here. We have to focus on the daily management of this nightmare but at the same time we need to think on what comes next and Europe will emerge stronger.”
Parliament President David Sassoli said, “This is the first time a democratic parliament has used these innovate measures [to vote remotely]. It has not happened before and I am grateful to all political groups who agreed to ensure we function in this way. We need the Parliament because we have a duty to continue our work.”