EU accused of initially ‘not being up to the task’ of tackling COVID-19

S&D leader Iratxe García’s remarks come ahead of an EU summit this week and follows an apology last week to Italy and other states by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen about how the EU first reacted to the crisis.
An empty plenary chamber at the European Parliament | Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

20 Apr 2020

One key decision to be taken this week is whether to adopt so-called Eurobonds to help tackle the economic fallout from the crisis. Parliament last Friday backed the move in a resolution adopted by most MEPs.

But, speaking ahead of the online summit, scheduled for Thursday and Friday, Garcia appealed to the EU to “rise to the challenge.”

The Spanish MEP said, “The more decisive our action is now, the less damaging the impact of the economic and social crisis will be and the sooner we can recover.”

García, whose group is the second biggest in Parliament, added, “If the Commission and the Council were not up to the task at the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Parliament is calling on them to now rise to the challenge and take responsibility.”


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“My message to heads of state and government [at the summit] is that it’s not too late to act, but there’s not a single moment to lose.”

Further comment came from Czech ECR MEP Alexandr Vondra, who said, “We need a way out of the COVID-19 crisis. Today, we are not yet able to determine the extent of it, but we know that the costs will be huge.”

With the EU still facing criticism about what some see as its initially slow and uncoordinated response to the outbreak, Parliament’s various committees also meet this week to discuss with EU commissioners what lessons need to be learned from the Coronavirus crisis and how to mitigate its effects.

Online meetings will be held on Monday and Tuesday with commissioners in their fields of responsibility, including Valdis Dombrovskis, Josep Borrell, Thierry Breton, Stella Kyriakides, Janez Lenarčič, Phil Hogan, Frans Timmermans, Elisa Ferreira, and Jutta Urpilainen.

At this week’s summit, Parliament’s President David Sassoli will address EU leaders on the resolution adopted by the institution last Friday which calls for post-lockdown “recovery bonds” guaranteed by the EU budget and an EU Coronavirus Solidarity Fund of at least €50 billion.

"If the Commission and the Council were not up to the task at the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Parliament is calling on them to now rise to the challenge and take responsibility" Iratxe García, S&D Group leader

The EPP group will also push for a 'Solidarity Pact' for the recovery and reconstruction of the EU economy.

In a busy week of committee meetings, Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee will on Tuesday debate policy measures intended to combat the economic, financial and social consequences of the crisis with Eurogroup president Mário Centeno.

On the same day, the International Trade Committee will debate with Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan on extending the obligation to authorise the export of protective masks and on the EU's response to the impact of COVID-19 on trade.

On Thursday, meanwhile, the Civil Liberties Committee will discuss the situation of the rule of law in Poland with Poland’s Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders and Polish commissioner for Human Rights Adam Bodnar.

Committee members will also assess emergency measures taken in all Member States, with a focus on Hungary, criticised by many for the emergency legislation it has brought in to tackle the pandemic.

On this issue, EPP group spokeswoman Roberta Metsola said, “During these exceptional times, we must uphold our democratic institutions.”

"We need a way out of the COVID-19 crisis. Today, we are not yet able to determine the extent of it but we know that the costs will be huge" Alexandr Vondra MEP

“All emergency measures taken at national and European level must be in line with the rule of law. The measures must be strictly proportionate to the situation, clearly connected to the health crisis, limited in time and subject to regular scrutiny.”

“The EPP wants all emergency measures in all Member States to be assessed and monitored,” she added.

Also this week, Transport and Tourism Committee members will debate with Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton the impact on the tourism sector, while the Regional Development Committee will debate the future of EU cohesion policy in the next EU long-term budget (MFF).

Discussions will include the role of SMEs and the social consequences of the crisis.

With some MEPs, particularly from the ECR group, calling for the European Green Deal, an EU flagship policy, to be shelved for the time being, the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee will discuss the issue with Vice-President Frans Timmermans.

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