Appearing via videolink on Tuesday, Phil Hogan defended the EU’s export authorisation scheme on medical equipment, such as protective spectacles and visors, face shields and protective garments.
He said, “The scheme is temporary, targeted, proportionate and transparent.”
He told MEPs that the export authorisation scheme had helped remove trade barriers on essential medical equipment urgently needed to help healthcare workers.
Under the scheme - an emergency measure adopted as part of the EU’s response to the crisis - such products can only be exported to a non-EU country with an authorisation granted by individual EU countries. The restrictions are due to run until April 25.
The aim, he said, was to ensure that EU countries had sufficient PPE – personal protective equipment – to meet their demands.
Hogan said the measure was necessary in order to ensure a coordinated EU-wide approach at a time when some Member States were acting arbitrarily by introducing export controls, including bans, on PPE.
“It [solidarity] must also be extended to developing countries in places like South America and Africa - we have to provide assistance to these vulnerable countries.” Commissioner Phil Hogan
The scheme, he told MEPs, was brought about because of the “actions” of some Member States.
Hogan said, “It is regrettable that some have also sought to misrepresent the measure [the authorisation scheme] but I believe it has been effective.”
He also said that “solidarity” in tackling the pandemic “must not be restricted” to the EU.
“It must also be extended to developing countries in places like South America and Africa - we have to provide assistance to these vulnerable countries.”
The restrictions came in after a number of countries, including France and Germany, introduced their own export controls, angering fellow members such as Italy that were most in need of such equipment.
In some countries, such as France, supplies of PPE are so short that people have been asked to make their own masks.
On Tuesday, the UK was still waiting for a plane load of PPE to arrive from Turkey. There was also an “outcry” about news that some factories in the UK which produce PPE had been exporting medical equipment to EU countries.
Hogan said, “It is important is see the export authorisation scheme for what it is: it is temporary with limited scope. It is not an export ban and it was right to introduce it at the beginning. There will be zero tolerance to ensure that everyone complies with the single market.”
He said, “We live in extraordinary times and trade policy has a critical role to play.”
“One thing we have learned that is after this is over we perhaps need to look again to see where we can do things better and in a more coordinated way” Commissioner Phil Hogan
“We have to remember, though, that health is a Member State, not an EU, competence and we are doing our best to coordinate with Member States, including on best practice, issuing guidelines and the exit strategies.”
“But one thing we have learned that is after this is over we perhaps need to look again to see where we can do things better and in a more coordinated way.”
“For now, we are asking Member States to look at shortages of this equipment and their production capacity and to ramp up production, including those companies not normally involved in such production.”
“At the start of this crisis, there were just 11 companies in Europe involved in producing masks. This has now risen to 500 companies producing masks so there’s been a big response from industry to produce essential the equipment we need. This is making a huge difference,” said Hogan.
“If this scale-up can be replicated for other products we would be happy to see that,” he added.
The EU executive, which oversees trade policy for the 27 EU Member States, introduced the scheme to apply for 30 days from April 26. The adjustments were designed to meet the EU’s global commitments in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.
German Socialist Bernd Lange, the committee chair, hit out at the “protective measures” taken by Member States.
He did not name any countries, but said, “These measures, including export controls and bans, were based on national interests. Unfortunately, this sent out the wrong signal and was not in line with EU values or the solidarity which is needed in such a crisis.”
He said he had welcomed the export authorisation scheme, which he stressed was an initiative aimed at export controls, “not a ban” on such devices.
Lange added, “This was the right step at the right time so that export controls are the same throughout the EU.”