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23rd Jan 2021

Coronavirus

EU states urged to share sick patients

  • Some EU states have more spare hospital beds than others (Photo: gob.mx)

EU states should take in sick people from Italy and Spain for treatment in a public demonstration of solidarity, a group of MEPs has urged.

The EU should "massively" increase aid "foremost to the most severely affected [member states] like Italy, Spain, [and] some regions in France" the MEPs said in a letter to top EU officials seen by EUobserver.

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"Such measures should go beyond financial instruments and should include tangible and visible assistance, like imports of equipment and qualified personnel, hosting sick patients," the MEPs said.

The EU also needed a "communication strategy to highlight such assistance, in order to counter misinformation and to signal to the citizens of the EU that solidarity among them is ongoing," they added.

China and Russia had exploited "the initial nationalistic responses by European countries" to harmful effect in their anti-EU propaganda, the MEPs warned.

"It is time to mitigate this geopolitical instrumentalisation of the crisis," they said.

The 39 MEPs came from the main centrist groups in the European Parliament and from the four corners of Europe.

They spoke out as hundreds of people a day were dying in the coronavirus pandemic, overwhelming national health services.

The EU has struggled to coordinate medical assistance.

And in a role reversal to past times, China and Russia have sent humanitarian aid to Europe.

But at the same time, their state-controlled media and social media were doing a hatchet job on the EU's reputation, the MEPs warned.

They were trying "to undermine the EU and sow mistrust among the local population," the MEPs said.

And the information warfare could "seriously ... hinder us from overcoming the [health] crisis," they said.

The MEPs wrote last Friday (27 March) to EU Council president Charles Michel, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, and EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.

EU leaders agreed last Thursday "to pursue" joint procurement of medical supplies.

They also decided to "resolutely counter disinformation with transparent, timely and fact-based communication on what we are doing".

The EU foreign service was "tasked by European leaders at last week's virtual European Council to intensify work in this regard, that is already ongoing," an EU spokesman told EUobserver.

The EU commission had published a new webpage on its coronavirus response and a second one on myth-busting, he added.

All that fell short of the MEPs' more radical ideas, however.

And given the "nationalistic responses" by some European countries, it appeared unlikely EU states would agree to share sick patients.

But unless Europe stepped up the substance of its reaction as well as "intensifying" communications, it risked sounding hollow, an EU source said.

"The EU's failure to mobilise a humanitarian response in the first few weeks of the crisis was a grave mistake," the source said.

"We're seeing a consolidation of disinformation narratives decrying the EU's incompetence and callousness while praising China and Russia for their 'selfless sacrifice' to help Europe," they added.

"These messages are gaining traction ... not least because there's a significant grain of truth," the EU source said.

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