Coronavirus, here is what the EU Parliament is doing while the Member States part ways

Camilla Palla

On Thursday 26 March, the European institutions met again to take stock of the crisis, with the aim of identifying new tools and strengthening the existing ones in the management of the coronavirus emergency.

At its meeting, the European Parliament met in a plenary session to vote on the measures proposed by the Commission in the previous weeks. Only political group leaders were actually present, while other MEPs were able to follow the work remotely. Nevertheless, 687 MEPs took part in the voting. The main point? A more united Europe and a greater solidarity among Member States is needed in order to cope with the challenges arising from the crisis.

The session was opened by President David Sassoli, who emphasised that the work of Parliament would continue, and that thanks to the new special procedures which have been introduced, Parliament will maintain and ensure its role and activities.  The plenary was a unique moment, in which, for the first time, a democratic institution expressed itself through the distance voting procedure.

The major challenge facing the EU and its Member States involves medium and long-term measures to mitigate the already critical economic impact and increase direct investment in research. As well, there are some in the Parliament who have called for a more robust approach by the institutions, with stronger measures. These include, for example, an EU Marshall Plan complemented by a European unemployment fund to try to reduce the economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. Despite the divergent positions of the different groups, the voting led to the almost unanimous approval of three key measures to tackle the crisis.

The first tool to be approved is the Corona Response Investment Initiative, which releases €37 billion already available in European funds to strengthen healthcare systems, small and medium-sized enterprises and other vulnerable sectors of the European economies.

The second concerns the extension of the EU Solidarity Fund – the fund created in 2002 for the management of the severe floods that had affected Central Europe -, which will make up to €800 million available in 2020. The Commission’s proposal provided for an extension of the initial scope of the fund to include major public health crises in addition to the natural emergencies initially covered.

Finally, the last measure concerned the suspension of slot allocation rules at EU airports. The temporary suspension – which will apply throughout the summer season – relieves airlines from the obligation to make a minimum number of take-offs and landings, thus stopping the phenomenon of so-called “ghost flights”. Another point, complementary to the economic aspect, concerns the European institutions’ call on Member States to keep their internal borders open to enable the transnational flow of medical equipment and goods.

However, modifying the existing tools is still not enough, stressed the President of the European Parliament David Sassoli, as new and multi-dimensional solutions must be identified.  The EU needs a common, responsible and strong response from all Member States. Yet, this commitment clashed with the lack of consensus at yesterday’s European Council summit. Without the agreement of Member States on the ‘coronabonds’ and other economic measures under discussion, the European Union response is likely to be insufficient.

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