EU member states approve release of US$41 billion to address COVID-19 crisis

EU ambassadors in the European Council agreed on March 18, 2020 on the Council's position to approve two legislative proposals for responding to the COVID-19 outbreak: the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, and an extension of the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund.

The Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative will enable the EU to release €37 billion (US$41 billion) of European public investment from cohesion funding to address the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. Unused cohesion funds amounting to €8 billion (US$9 billion) will be available as national co-financing to trigger the release and use of some €29 billion (US$32 billion) of structural funding across the EU. 
 
EU ambassadors also endorsed without amendment the proposal for a regulation to extend the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund (EUSF). This proposal is to address the fact that the existing instrument does not facilitate responding to major public health emergencies like COVID-19 at the EU-level. The EUSF was created to help address major disasters (such as natural disasters) that justify intervention at the EU-level. Mobilization of the Fund is only possible if requested by an eligible state. It is based on the subsidiarity principle, which means the EU should intervene only in cases where a Member State is deemed no longer to be able to cope with a crisis alone and requires assistance. The proposal for changes include: 

  • Increasing the total level of appropriations in the annual budget from €50 million to €100 million; 
  • Raising the level of advance payments for individual disasters of all categories to 25% of the expected EUSF contribution; and
  • While eligible operations remain limited to public health emergency operations, extending them to include "assistance to the population in case of health crises, including medical, and measures to contain the further spreading of an infectious disease". 

The European Parliament will now need to agree on its position for the two legislative proposals and then the Council is expected to adopt them by written procedure. Members of the European Parliament are working to fast-track the procedure, and a special plenary vote will take place on March 26, 2020, where parlimentarians are expected to greenlight the urgent proposals. They will be able to vote either in person in Brussels or via email. 
 
Press release - Council of the EU
 
Proposal for a regulation concerning the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative - Council of the EU
 
Proposal for a regulation extending the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund - Council of the EU

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