'European countries are pulling together' - Head of European Commission in Ireland outlines response

Op-ed by Gerry Kiely, Head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland

'European countries are pulling together' - Head of European Commission in Ireland outlines response

'European countries are pulling together' - Head of European Commission in Ireland outlines response

The Head of the European Commission in Dublin outlines the work of the EC in combating the Covid 19 pandemic and the medical and economic initiatives currently being advanced. 

The Covid-19 virus knows no borders. It is only by working together, through resolute and co-ordinated action, that Ireland and Europe can win the battle against it. Such action will save lives, limit the economic damage and prepare for as rapid a
recovery as possible. The European Commission is pulling out all the stops to achieve this.

The loss of so many people to this deadly virus is a tragedy on a scale unimaginable even just a few short weeks ago. The incredible efforts of doctors and nurses, and the work of those who provide essential services to the population, in Ireland and
across Europe, is a source of great pride.

I am also proud that European countries are pulling together to fight Covid-19, including when faced with unprecedented challenges at home. Germany is taking patients from Northern Italy. Luxembourg is taking patients from France. Another illustration comes from medical supplies, with France, Germany and Austria each having sent at least one million masks to Italy.

Such European solidarity is a vital ingredient to getting through the crisis. Indeed solidarity goes beyond our borders as
evidenced by the 56 tonnes of protective clothing sent to China during the height of their epidemic and the help we are and will have to increase to developing countries as the epidemic spreads around the globe.

In the shorter-term, ensuring our health services can deal with the pandemic is the top priority. While national governments are in the driving seat here, the EU has a big role to play in standing alongside governments in the battle to protect citizens. The EU’s clout is enabling us to secure vital medical equipment at a fair price.

To help address the shortage of such equipment, the European Commission has launched, jointly with Ireland and other EU countries, a series of procurement initiatives. Tenders have already been successfully completed for personal protective
equipment, such as gloves, face-masks and goggles. Offers from suppliers covered, and in some cases exceeded, all the equipment requested. The EU is now working flat out to secure ventilators, laboratory equipment and test kits, and these efforts should bear fruit shortly.

In the longer-term, the development, production and deployment of a vaccine is vital in the COVID-19 battle. The Commission has therefore reoriented existing research and is making new funding available to this end. It has mobilised €140 million of
funds for vaccine research, and selected 17 new projects. The Commission has also made € 80 million available to Cure Vac, a global leader in this effort, for its work on a vaccine.

EU countries have many lessons to learn from each other in the fight against this new virus. To this end, the Commission has established an expert panel, composed of a team of Europe’s top epidemiologists and virologists, to formulate science-based
best practice advice and help guide the EU response.

As Ireland knows only too well, the safe return of people stranded abroad is a pressing priority. The EU is doing all it can to ensure citizens are reunited with their families as soon as possible, and is working 24/7 with national governments to this end. Thanks to repatriation flights organised through the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism, well over 2,000 people have got home to Europe, including from China, Japan, the US, Morocco, Tunisia, Georgia, the Philippines and Cape Verde. More
than 80 further repatriation flights are planned.

On the economic and social front, the pandemic is sending an extremely sharp and cold wind through the length and breadth of Ireland and Europe. No sector is being left untouched, with many households and workers enduring huge knock-backs. The European Commission has acted to ensure a co-ordinated response, granting national governments unprecedented powers to pump money into the health service and provide a financial lifeline to businesses, workers and households hit hard by the
pandemic.

The Commission has also launched a massive investment initiative to tackle the challenges posed by the pandemic, with EUR 37 billion available to provide liquidity to small businesses and the health care sector. While the pressing need is to fight the pandemic and its immediate consequences, we must also look further ahead and work out how to help Ireland and Europe get back to normality.

Work is therefore starting on a co-ordinated exit strategy and recovery plan that puts our economies on a sustainable footing, preserves European values and strengthens our way of life. European leaders are committed to doing everything that is necessary to protect their citizens and overcome the crisis.

While the pandemic is placing a great burden on all of us, by working together, first at an EU level and then globally, we can emerge stronger from this battle, and our communities can become closer and more resilient going forward.

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