Looking back at the chaos of Member states acting solo at the beginning of the corona crisis, the European Commission puts forward a different approach for the relaxation of the coronavirus measures: On 15 April 2020, the Commission presented a “Roadmap” with recommendations to the Member states concerning the gradual relaxation of current restrictions – based on coordination and solidarity.
The “Roadmap” does by no means include binding targets for Member States, but provides stimuli for a coordinated approach to lifting the measures introduced in the fight against the coronavirus. A first draft of the document had already made its rounds a week before; however, after hostile reactions from Member states it was put back in its drawer. Meanwhile, Austria, Spain and Denmark have relaxed the restrictions, for example by reopening some retail stores and other businesses or kindergartens and schools. Commission President von der Leyen commented that there could be no “one-fits-all” solution. She supported a coordinated, joint, and solidary approach. The expertise of science and the protection of public health, which had to come before economic considerations, would be pivotal for the further course of the crisis.
The timing is crucial
The Commission identifies three criteria, which must be met before any relaxation could even be considered. Firstly, the number of new confirmed cases must fall or remain at a constant level. Secondly, sufficient capacities of the healthcare systems are a necessary condition as resuming economic activities or a relaxation of contact bans would inevitably result in an increase of new cases. Thirdly, there have to be “appropriate monitoring capacities”, in particular widespread testing of the population or tracking apps, which provide voluntary information on the course of the infection.
Core elements for relaxing current rules and resuming social life are exact knowledge of confirmed cases and meaningful data on the spread of the virus. Much discussed tracking apps might help to achieve this; however, critics insist on the strict protection of privacy in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation. As a supporting measure for Member States, the Commission also published a “Toolbox” on 15 April 2020, which, for example lists essential requirements to be met by apps and which shall serve as a guideline for data protection compliance. Medical equipment shall continue to be guaranteed by rescEU and joint procurement initiatives at EU level. The capacities of healthcare, for example the numbers of intensive care beds must also be monitored and guaranteed at all times, as new cases are to be expected. The research for a vaccine and a medicament also remains a key issue. A donor conference to pledge money to support the search for a vaccine has been scheduled for 4 May 2020.
Proceeding step by step and “talking to each other”
As von der Leyen pointed out in a joint press conference with Council President Charles Michel, Member states were required to communicate any measures to lift the restrictions among each other and with the Commission. Any re-openings had to be done cautiously and gradually. A functioning single market and the mobility of workers had to be guaranteed. Risk groups too still had to receive special protection. Imposed states of emergency, which, looking at Hungary, undermine the principles of the rule of law and the rights of minorities, shall be replaced by specific measures. Relaxation of border closures shall commence at local level, starting for example with opening the borders between less affected regions. In view of social life, kindergartens and schools should be opened first, whilst major events would be allowed last. The economy too shall be ramped up gradually and cautiously. The European Trade Union Confederation responded with demanding for a carefully planned occupational safety and health protection, which had to be developed in cooperation with the social partners. Customised concepts had to be provided for workers in all sectors soon.
A Marshall Plan for Europe?
According to von der Leyen, a “powerful new European budget” is an important and proven instrument for the economic recovery in Europe. The Commission President said in her speech before the European Parliament on 16 April “[…] just as the world looks very different from the way it did just a few weeks ago - so must our budget”. Funds from the Multiannual Financial Framework shall be used to trigger investments on the international financial market worth trillions. A more specific configuration of the economic recovery plan, which continues to pursue the European Green Deal and the Digital Agenda, shall be presented on 29 April 2020.