EU Members Support Each Other During COVID-19 Crisis, Extending Help to Their Neighbors

April 9, 2020 Updated: April 9, 2020

“Despite a slow start, Europe is now standing tall together,” President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen said on March 5. She made the statement on Twitter when referring to help that EU member states offer each other where it is needed to curb the pandemic caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus.

The European Union also extends assistance to non-EU countries, especially African countries that are particularly vulnerable because “the devastating effects of COVID-19 can be amplified by conflicts,” EU’s diplomat-in-chief Josep Borrell said at a virtual presser after the video conference of EU foreign affairs ministers on March 3.

European Solidarity

European retired doctors and nurses returned to work, restaurants deliver food to “exhausted medical staff,” and car manufacturers produce ventilators, von der Leyen said. She also praised Polish doctors who went to Italy to treat Italian patients, Czechia and Austria for sending 10,000 masks to Spain and other countries in need, Germany for admitting Italian patients to their hospitals, and Bulgaria for sending protective equipment to Austria.

Czechia will also treat six COVID-19 patients from France at one of its major hospitals to help alleviate pressure on the French medical system, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on March 5, according to Reuters.

The European Union will co-finance and coordinate the deployment of medical teams from Romania and Norway to Italy, as well as the Austrian offer of 3,000 liters (792 gallons) of disinfectants to Italy, the European Commission announced in a statement.

“This is the power of European solidarity,” von der Leyen said in a tweet.

The European Union has also taken some unprecedented measures to relax its state aid rules to support all European businesses whether big or small during the time of crisis, von der Leyen said in an op-ed published by European media. Relaxing budgetary rules helped those in need to obtain assistance quicker. The EU and its member states allocated a total of 2.8 trillion euros ($3 billion) to fight the pandemic, she said.

People with balloons wait for the arrival of relatives, at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, April 2, 2020, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters/File Photo)
People with balloons wait for the arrival of relatives at the airport in Frankfurt, as the spread of the CCP virus continues. Germany, on April 2, 2020. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters/File Photo)

The EU also assists its members in the repatriation of their citizens stuck in foreign countries after many countries closed their borders due to the CCP virus outbreak. Repatriation has become more and more difficult since many airlines grounded their planes, said Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

The EU usually coordinates with airlines commercial flights or charter flights if possible to bring EU residents home and most people repatriated so far have come home this way. If there is no other way to bring people back, the EU uses its civil protection mechanism as the last resort to arrange EU non-commercial charter flights. About 10,000 people have been repatriated this way so far, Borrell said.

For example, Poland needs to repatriate its people from Nepal where the Polish commercial airline cannot fly and hopes that the EU can help to bring Poles stuck in Nepal back home, said Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Jacek Czaputowicz at a press conference in an answer to a question from The Epoch Times.

To date, more than 350,000 Europeans have been repatriated through the EU efforts, while 250,000 still need assistance, said Borrell.

EU Plans to Assist its Neighbors to Fight CCP Virus

A mask-clad costumer pays from behind a barrier amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at a supermarket in the Libyan capital on March 25, 2020. (Mahmud Turkia AFP via Getty Images)
A mask-clad consumer pays from behind a barrier amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 CCP virus, at a supermarket in the Libyan capital on March 25, 2020. (Mahmud Turkia /AFP via Getty Images)

“We cannot solve this pandemic just at home. Even if we solve the problem in Europe, it will not be solved if it is not solved everywhere. Because it can backlash at any moment,” Borrell said.

African countries neighboring the EU, where the pandemic can get out of control very rapidly, are a special concern because these countries do not have the same healthcare capacity that Europe does, Borrell said. Europe has 37 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants, but Africa has only 1 doctor per 10,000 inhabitants, he said. The number of beds in hospitals and the number of intensive care units (ICU) in Africa shows similar disparity, so the same threat can cause more damage in Africa than in Europe. Therefore, out of its own interests, the EU would like to help Africa, Borrell said. In the areas currently involved in military conflicts like Libya, Syria, Yemen, the devastating effect of the coronavirus can be multiplied, he added.

Borrell called for a meeting of EU ministers of development which will take place this week and the ministers together will create a package to address COVID-19 situation in Africa.

Poland's Minister of Foreign Affairs Jacek Czaputowicz speaks to the press after a United Nations Security Council meeting at the United Nations in New York on August 20, 2019. (Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images)
Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jacek Czaputowicz speaks to the press after a United Nations Security Council meeting at the United Nations in New York on August 20, 2019. (Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images)

The ministers at the conference also discussed support to other EU neighbors like Ukraine, Belarus, and Western Balkan countries where the healthcare level is lower than in the EU, Czaputowicz said at a press conference in response to a question from The Epoch Times.

Assistance to these states is also important from the geopolitical perspective due to other actors’ presence in these countries, but it requires additional funds, Czaputowicz said. Poland, together with some other EU members, proposed an increase of the EU budget for this purpose but other EU members did not supported it, said Czaputowicz.

Borrell also called for a worldwide truce in support of the appeal by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres for an immediate global ceasefire in light of the global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

“We urge all those involved in armed conflicts anywhere in the world to engage in efforts to find a political solution to the conflict,” Borrell said, “Now is the time for international solidarity,” so the most vulnerable people can be protected from suffering brought by the CCP virus.

All efforts and resources should be devoted to fighting the common enemy, the CCP virus, Borrell said. He also urged “all warring parties” to ensure that those in need will get unimpeded access to humanitarian aid.

The European Union also stresses that sanctions should provide exceptions for humanitarian aid including medical equipment and supplies, Borrell said. U.N. and EU sanctions provision such exceptions and the EU encourages other jurisdictions to do the same, he added.

Reuters contributed to this report.