Wednesday

21st Oct 2020

Coronavirus

EU Commission slammed for Covid-19 'mid-threat' ranking

  • Trade unions regretted the EU executive's decision and called on member states to implement stricter measures to protect workers until a treatment or vaccine is available (Photo: Carsten ten Brink)

The European Commission on Wednesday (3 June) classified the coronavirus as a "mid-level" threat to EU workers - drawing criticism from socialist MEPs and trade unions as the classification allows businesses to apply less stringent safety measures in the workplace.

The commission classified the virus as a level-3 hazard on a four-group risk list - although there is still no treatment available to prevent or cure coronavirus, a disease that has killed over 379,000 people worldwide.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Level-3 hazard is used when a biological agent "can cause severe human disease and present a serious hazard to workers; it may present a risk of spreading to the community, but there is usually effective prophylaxis or treatment available," according to EU rules.

Level-4 is applied for those that pose a "high risk" of infection with no prophylaxis or treatment available.

However, a commission spokesperson said on Wednesday that "the existence or absence of prophylaxis cannot be considered as a standalone criterion".

The decision follows the scientific advice of experts from the 27 member states, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organization, the commission said.

Additionally, the EU executive urged both the European Parliament and European Council to approve the proposal as quickly as possible.

But the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the parliament said on Wednesday that they will seek a majority in the chamber to reject the commission's decision in a vote expected in June.

However, the commission's decision is immediately applicable.

"We strongly oppose the decision by the commission to classify Covid-19 only as a mid-level hazard. Covid-19 is the biggest health challenge of our lifetime," said MEP Agnes Jongerius, who is a member of the parliament's committee on employment.

"Now, that millions of workers will be sent back to their workplaces, we have to make sure that they too are adequately protected and a second wave is prevented," she added.

Jongerius also voiced concerns about the lack of transparency of the procedures set out in the EU's Biological Agents at Work Directive since there is no public information available about the experts consulted by the commission or the reasoning behind their decision.

The parliament's committee on employment is expected to vote the decision on Thursday (11 June), which will be followed by the vote in the full plenary in the next session.

Potential argument for Eurosceptics?

Meanwhile, trade unions also regretted the EU executive's decision and called on member states to implement stricter measures to protect workers until a treatment or vaccine is available.

"Research shows that the characteristics of the virus justify its classification in the highest risk group, not only because of the lack of effective treatment or vaccine but because of the high risk of workers who are in contact with the public spreading the virus to the community," said deputy general secretary at the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), Per Hilmersson

But the commissioner for employment and social rights, Nicolas Schmit, said that the new classification "complements the already stringent measures in place, improving the protection of all workers, especially those who work directly with the virus in hospitals, industrial processes and laboratories".

However, ETUC experts warned that the choice of Level 3 would mean that "the commission did not fully consider the high sensitiveness of the problem," since many health care professionals have died due to coronavirus and thousands have got infected across Europe.

ETUC also stressed that this decision could even provide strong arguments to Eurosceptics.

"Member states have adopted an exceptionally high level of precautionary approach which is fully justified. Nobody would understand that a lower level should apply to the workers," they said.

Opinion

How coronavirus might hit EU defence spending

Among the casualties of coronavirus - worldwide and in the EU - is the defence sector. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has not made the world a less dangerous place and there is no alternative to having a functioning defence system.

EU corona recovery talks could drag into summer

EU leaders hold a videoconference Thursday to bridge divisions over financing Europe's recovery from the corona crisis, in talks interlinked with the bloc's long-term budget.

Borrell: Coronavirus has 'blown up' global order

"The coronavirus has ending blowing up the model of global multilateral governance that has been functioning over the past few years," EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell told a group of reporters on Thursday.

EU's migrants more at risk from coronavirus

Europe's migrants - including EU nationals living in other states - are more at risk of catching coronavirus or suffering from corona-linked poverty, a new study says.

EU outlines vaccine roll-out plan

The European Commission urged member states to scale up efforts to flatten the curve of the second wave of Covid-19 and recommended common measures for the roll-out of potential vaccines.

News in Brief

  1. Ireland first EU state to re-impose full lockdown
  2. EU countries agree farm policy reform
  3. EU corona-bonds attracted huge demand
  4. France seeks Putin's help on counter-terrorism
  5. Cyber attacks 'targeted health system during pandemic'
  6. Greece asks EU countries to halt military exports to Turkey
  7. Covid-19: Spain considers curfews in hardest-hit areas
  8. Study: Air pollution costs Europeans €1,276 per year

EU tries to avoid lockdowns as global death toll reaches 1m

Several member states are putting forward restrictive Covid-19-related measures to try to control the surge of numbers of coronavirus cases, trying to avoid a second lockdown. Meanwhile, the global death toll from the novel coronavirus has reached one million.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. 'Big majority' of citizens want EU funds linked to rule of law
  2. EU declares war on Malta and Cyprus passport sales
  3. EU Commission's Libya stance undercut by internal report
  4. Backroom deal will make CAP reform a catastrophic failure
  5. EU money used by neo-Nazi to promote Holocaust denial
  6. Over 80% of Europe's habitats in poor or bad condition
  7. EU's Brexit move could end deadlock in talks
  8. EU's migrants more at risk from coronavirus

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us