Saturday

11th Jul 2020

Coronavirus

EU commission to stockpile strategic medical gear

  • Commissioner Janez Lenarcic said export bans undermines EU solidarity

The EU commission on Thursday (19 March) said it will set up a stockpile of face masks, intensive care equipment and other essential medical gear to tackle shortages in member states.

The move comes after EU countries at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak have faced shortages of crucial medical equipment.

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"The world was very much caught by surprise by the force and speed of this virus," EU commissioner for crisis management Janez Lenarcic told reporters.

From the new reserve the commission would direct supplies where they are most needed based on an "objective criteria".

It is complimentary to another tool, the civil protection mechanism, where a member states in trouble can ask for help from other member states. Italy and recently Spain have called for help within this mechanism.

"We are all in this together, we have to work constructively and work on solutions," Lenarcic said.

Under the new reserve plans, a member state has to volunteer to undertake a procurement, and purchase specific equipment.

That will be financed almost entirely by the EU (up to 90 percent), and then the member states are expected to host that bit of equipment, which will likely end up going to another member state.

The planned stockpile will include intensive care medical equipment such as ventilators, personal protective equipment such as reusable masks, vaccines and therapeutics, and laboratory supplies.

Lenarcic said "half a dozen" member states have expressed interest in participating in the scheme.

An EU official said the reserve could be operational already next week.

The initial EU budget of the stockpile is €50m, of which €40m will have to be approved by EU governments.

The commissioner said that there is "objective situation" globally, that there is a "prevailing scarcity of personal protection gear in EU and all over the world".

The biggest producers are in China and Asia. Industry commissioner Thierry Breton has been working with European manufacturers to ramp up production. But some components of their production also comes from other parts of the world.

European producers need a bit of time to widen or transform their production. "Things are moving, the virus is still faster," an EU official said.

EU countries have criticised each other after several member states, such as Germany, banned the export of medical supplies.

Germany's economy ministry said on Wednesday that export licenses for the export of protective equipment to Italy, Switzerland and Austria had been issued. The 400,000 protective masks sent form Germany has arrived to Italy on Thursday.

"Export bans within the EU undermine both the solidarity on which the EU should be based, as well as mechanisms like the civil protection mechanism," Lenarcic said, calling for the removal of such bans.

To help Europe cope, China has offered to send 2.2 million masks and 50,000 testing kits to the EU, commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.

The EU commission has also launched joint procurements for masks, and other protective gear earlier this month.

Analysis

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2020 was supposed to be the crunch year in the fightback against climate change. However, the coronavirus pandemic has flattened Europe and beyond, which is likely to slow down international negotiations to fight climate change

Vast queues, as EU struggles with closed borders

Coordination among EU countries to better manage border closures amid the coronavirus outbreak is slow. So are the queues of lorries and cars waiting at some internal frontiers.

EU fighting shortages and faulty medical supplies

EU countries reported shortages of ventilators, personal protective equipment and testing kits, but also being victims of fraud. Meanwhile, the European Commission has scaled up its efforts to avoid shortages of ani-virus gear and faulty medical supplies in the EU.

EU commission seeks to buy medical gear itself

EU crisis management becomes difficult when all member states are hit at the same time, commissioner Janez Lenarcic admitted. To avoid that, the commission wants powers to itself buy strategic reserves for member states.

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