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European Commission to alter long-term EU budget proposal to address COVID-19

The European Commission plans to propose changes to the EU’s long-term budget, the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF), to better enable the EU to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and potential economic crisis. Proposed changes will include an economic stimulus package that ensures that cohesion within the Union is maintained through solidarity.
 
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has called for further discussions on the next MFF and the European Parliament’s budgets committee has called on the Commission to produce a new MFF proposal in light of the COVID-19 crisis. 
 
The announcement of the Commission’s plans to adjust the MFF proposal also follows French President Emmanual Macron's call for more European solidarity, either through a common debt instrument or by using the EU budget to help member states most affected by the COVID-19 crisis. 
 
Press release - European Commission
 
Press release - European Parliament

EU Global health

COVID-19 innovations must prioritize access and affordability, say European parlimentarians and NGOs

A consortium of 61 European nonprofits, a group of 33 members of the European Parliament, and a consumer rights group wrote letters to EU leadership urging that future diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines developed for COVID-19 be made affordable and accessible to all, both within Europe and worldwide. 
 
The NGO letter, which was signed by 61 organizations including the Health Action International, Aidsfonds, the European Association of Hospital Pharmacists and MSF Access Campaign amongst others, was directed to the European Commission, Parliament, and the Council of the EU. The organizations called for diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines to be made free of charge to consumers, especially for vulnerable populations. The letter notes that other initiatives funding COVID-19 research and development, such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), include guarantees that affordability clauses will be in place to ensure accessibility in their calls for proposals. 
 
Monique Goyens, the Director-General of Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs (BEUC), a European consumer rights organization, wrote to the Commission about concerns over the “lack of attention to affordability” in the EU’s research funding for COVID-19 treatments. Goyens’ letter emphasized that COVID-19 therapies and treatments should be made “widely available at the lowest possible prices for public healthcare systems.”
 
MEPs letter to European Commission
 
NGOs letter to EU institutions
 
BEUC letter to European Commission

EU to host international online pledging event for COVID-19 funding

European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have announced that an international online pledging event will be set up to ensure adequate funding to develop and deploy a vaccine against COVID-19. Such an event would likely raise funds for multilateral organizations key to the coronavirus response, such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).  
 
The presidents' statement was published after the G20 videoconference where G20 country leaders were called to undertake efforts to mitigate the negative economic consequences of the pandemic and to support affected workers and companies. The statement emphasized the importance of global coordination towards collective pandemic preparedness and response and reaffirmed the EU's commitment to international cooperation.
 
Extraordinary G20 Leaders’ Summit Statement on COVID-19
 
Statement - European Council

EU Global health

EU leaders call for global cooperation on COVID-19 research and mitigation of associated socioeconomic fallout

EU heads of state held a European Council videoconference on March 26, 2020, to discuss the coordination of EU efforts to respond to COVID-19.

They committed to collaborating with partners to coordinate within the EU and worldwide on urgent vaccine research and called for making the future vaccine, once developed, “available to all those in need, without any geographical barriers.” They also committed to multilateral approaches and international cooperation to tackle the pandemic and mitigate its socioeconomic consequences. 
 
Joint statement - European Council

EU member states adopt COVID-19 crisis response budget measures

The Council of the EU formally adopted two legislative acts to immediately release funding for responding to the COVID-19 crisis: the 'Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative' and an amendment to extending the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund. Members of the European Parliament unanimously adopted the proposals in an extraordinary plenary session on March 26, 2020. Both acts will enter into force on April 1, 2020. 
 
The Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative will enable the EU to release €37 billion (US$40.4 billion) of European public investment from cohesion funding to address the consequences of the coronavirus crisis. Unused cohesion funds amounting to €8 billion (US$ 8.7 billion) will be available as national co-financing to trigger the release and use of approximately €29 billion (US$31.7 billion) of structural funding across the EU. 
 
The regulation to extend the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund (EUSF) amends the instrument in order to allow its funds to be used for responding to major public health emergencies like COVID-19 at the EU-level. The EUSF was created to help address major disruptive events, such as natural disasters, that justify intervention at the EU-level.
 
Press release - Council of the EU
 
Regulation concerning the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative
 
Regulation extending the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund

EU Global health

Two vaccine projects among winners of EU's first COVID-19 research call

The European Commission’s first COVID-19 research call includes two vaccine development projects among the 17 projects that received support. One vaccine project, called Opencorona, is led by researchers at the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden’s top medical university, who hope to begin phase one human clinical trials in 2021.

The other, Prevent-nCoV, is led by AdaptVac, a Danish biotech start-up. AdaptVac hopes to complete safety and efficacy testing in the next 12 months on its synthetic virus-like particle technology. 
 
News article - Science|Business

COVID-19 response should be combined with commitment to long-term EU research, says European parlimentarian

A Member of the European Parliament leading research legislative efforts has praised the European Commission’s quick pooling of funding for research and development to tackle COVID-19 but has called for combining crisis response measures with a long-term commitment to EU research funding.
 
Christian Ehler, a German conservative and member of the European Parliament's Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), is the Parliament’s lead on the negotiations around Horizon Europe, the EU’s proposed research framework program for 2021-2027. Ehler urged the EU to ensure the bloc is prepared for the next crisis by investing more in research and ensuring that Horizon Europe is not held hostage in the “short-term squabbles between member states” during the negotiations on the next long-term EU budget, the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework.
 
Press release - European Parliament

EU Global health R&D

EU research commissioner promises hundreds of millions for COVID-19 research

The EU’s research commissioner, Mariya Gabriel, said in a written interview with Science|Business that the EU is mobilizing hundreds of millions of euros for COVID-19 research projects, emphasizing the critical role research and innovation can play in tackling the crisis. 
 
Gabriel is also calling on EU member states to agree on the EU’s next long-term budget, the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework. Quick agreement would ensure the next research program, Horizon Europe, is able to continue funding projects for diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines for COVID-19. So far, the EU has already made available €138 million (US$149 million) in funding for this research. 
 
Interview with Mariya Gabriel - Science|Business
 
News article - Science|Business

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

EU Global health

Heads of state identify EU’s priority actions to tackle COVID-19

European Council President Charles Michel hosted a videoconference with the EU heads of state on March 17, 2020, to discuss priority EU actions on COVID-19. The four priorities identified in the previous European Council videoconference meeting on COVID-19 held on March 10 are: 

  • Limiting the spread of the virus; 
  • Ensuring the provision of medical equipment; 
  • Promoting research, including for a vaccine; and
  • Tackling socio-economic consequences.

During the call, members of the European Council endorsed coordinated temporary restriction of non-essential travel to the EU for 30 days while ensuring passage across borders of essential goods like food and medicines. EU leaders supported efforts to jointly procure and provide protective medical equipment, encouraged efforts to support research, and affirmed their commitment to arranging repatriation of EU citizens abroad. They also committed to doing “whatever it takes” to address the socio-economic challenges and to encourage rapid economic recovery. 
 
March 17 Conclusions - European Council
 
March 10 Conclusions - European Council