The European Union has a fund of €25 billion to help companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) cope with the fallout of the coronavirus crisis, EU Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen said.
EU leaders met yesterday by video-conference to discuss reactions to the crisis, which have so far been widely different from one member state to another. However, despite public health and domestic security being strictly national competences, governments have begun to coordinate their actions more closely.
Economic conditions, on the other hand, are very much a matter for EU concern, and leaders were meeting to consider how the economic impact of the epidemic could best be handled.
Cooperation is also on the agenda when it comes to the shortage of PPE – personal protective equipment for medical and nursing staff. Von der Leyen, who happens also to be a medical doctor, has organised an EU-level tender process for the purchase of PPE, including face-masks and breathing apparatus.
In its capacity as responsible for research and development, the EU has also found a budget of €140 million for research into the diagnosis, treatment and vaccination of coronavirus.
Meanwhile, president of the council of ministers Charles Michel, the former Belgian prime minister, presented a four-part plan to soften the blow to the economy of the epidemic and reactions to it.
“We will be doing everything we can to ensure the European economy can weather this storm,” Michel said.
Among the sectors heavily hit are tourism. Not only has the lucrative Chinese tourism sector all but dried up, but also tourism in general, with people reluctant to travel, especially by air; with cruise ships suffering catastrophic negative publicity; and with some national measures, like the lockdown in Italy, turning tourists away en masse.
Von der Leyen was able to announce the existence of a contingency budget of 25 billion in all, available for the support of businesses, especially SMEs. Some €7.5 billion is ready for immediate use, she said.
“We need to get the money rolling out as quickly as possible,” she said.