On 28 October, the European Commission presented additional measures to help limit the spread of COVID-19 infections across Europe. Apart from measures aiming to improve vaccination campaigns and enhance contact tracing, the Commission introduced several measures to ensure the free flow of goods across borders.
To guarantee the continued functioning of supply chains in the Single market and avoid possible shortages, the European Commission introduced the transport green lanes in March. This week, the Commission proposed to extend the green lanes approach to ensure that multi-modal transport works effectively covering areas including rail, waterborne freight and air cargo. The Commission also secures essential medical supply chains via a new joint procurement of medical equipment for vaccination, and extends the temporary suspension of customs duties and VAT on medical equipment imports from non-EU countries.
European institutions reduce meetings amid COVID-19 resurgence in Europe
Amid a new surge of COVID-19 throughout Europe, meetings in the EU institutions face severe limitations. The German Presidency announced on 26 October that it will reduce physical expert meetings “to the absolute minimum”. These limitations of Council meetings will stay in place until further notice. The European Parliament also decided to ban physical plenary sessions and cancelled almost all in-person meetings as a way to curb the spread of COVID-19. The limitation of physical meetings will last at least until the end of November. Physical meetings can only take place in case of meetings that are necessary for the functioning of the EU or for the management of the COVID-19 crisis, such as the co-legislators’ negotiations on the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027 and the Recovery Fund.
Initiatives at EU level
- The European Commission disbursed a total of €17 billion to Italy, Spain and Poland as part of the Commission unemployment instrument SURE. This is the first instalment of financial support to Member States under the program. Italy receives €10 billion, Spain €6 billion and Poland €1 billion. These long-term loans aim to support these hard-hit Member States in the preservation of employment in their economies;
- On 28 October, the European Commission published a proposal for a directive to ensure adequate minimum wages for workers in the EU. The Commission believes that a minimum wage for workers is important both during the COVID-19 crisis and during a later economic recovery;
- On 19 October, the European Commission published its Work Program for 2021. The Commission will update its new industrial strategy for Europe to include the lessons drawn from the COVID-19 crisis in the second quarter of 2021. In the same period, the Commission will introduce a new occupational safety and health strategy framework, addressing the challenges that emerged from the COVID-19 health crisis;
On a national level, EU countries are also adopting further measures. For instance, the Belgian regions coordinated their approach in new COVID-19 measures, the country is now close to a full lockdown. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also announced that Germany will begin a ‘lockdown light’ as of 2 November to fight the rise in COVID-19 infections. France will return into a nationwide quarantine as of 30 October, which will last until 1 December. Finally, Greece announced it will enter into a French-model quarantine if infections rates do not decrease soon.