France was the first European country to encourage Europe to take the measure of the crisis as, on 10 March 2020, it requested an extraordinary European Council meeting and called for coordinated border measures to prevent countries adopting an individualist approach.
The Heads of State and Government have taken seven measures to coordinate our public health efforts, to protect Europeans and to reduce the socioeconomic impact of the epidemic:
1. Pool medical equipment (protective equipment, respiratory ventilators and laboratory kits) by creating the first ever common reserve of medical equipment and joint procurement to purchase personal protective equipment. This also requires a concerted effort to increase production capacities. At the same time, export permits have been have been made mandatory for exports outside of Europe.
2. Support research on a COVID-19 vaccine, with a budget of €140 million.
3. Pool efforts to allow European citizens stranded outside the EU while travelling to return home..
4. Facilitate movement within Europe, not just for goods, through priority corridors at internal borders for supplying hospitals, shops and factories for example, but also for people where necessary, particularly cross-border workers or European citizens returning home.
5. Respond to the crisis by reallocating €37 billion of the EU budget to the cohesion policy.
6. Support companies and workers by relaxing rules on state aid.
7. Suspend the Stability and Growth Pact to enable Member States to waive budgetary regulations in light of the pandemic..
The European Commission is responsible for effectively implementing these measures. Further measures are currently being discussed at European level to tackle this unprecedented crisis.
A European Council will take place around mid-April 2020 in order to review the actions underway and discuss how to end the crisis through solidarity. We need to send a clear signal of coordination and action in solidarity. The methods and practical details must be drawn up and agreed upon together. No country can overcome this crisis alone and solidarity must remain our guiding principle, both now and after the epidemic.
Finally, solidarity between European countries can be clearly seen on a daily basis, as countries agree to patient transfers to relieve their hardest-hit partners, through donations of medical equipment (e.g. Italy received over 3 million masks from its neighbours) and through d efforts to enable Europeans stranded while travelling abroad to return home.
How is France helping its European partners?Medical and protective equipmentTo help Italy, the first European country hit by the crisis, France sent it 1 million masks, 20,000 coats and 2,400 gowns.Although it is facing growing demand due to the increasing spread of the epidemic in its territory, as part of European solidarity France has already allowed over 2.2 million French-manufactured masks to be exported to other European countries.
Enabling Europeans stranded outside the EU to return home
From the end of January, by arranging three flights enabling 150 Europeans to return from Wuhan (as well as 200 French citizens).France opened dozens of commercial flights and repatriation operations for French people stranded abroad to other Europeans, thus contributing to the efforts which have so far enabled 250,000 Europeans, including 100,000 French people, to return to Europe.
France is aware that certain European countries are dependent on French cross-border workers for essential services, including in the healthcare system, and has taken immediate action to enable them to continue working (facilitated border crossings, upholding of labour law guarantees, social protection and taxation).
Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Austria have offered to accept intensive care patients hospitalized in France, particularly the Grand Est region which has been hard hit by the epidemic.
In total, there have been over 120 offers to take in patients and everything possible is being done to transfer them quickly.
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