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06.04.2020 19:12 News >> Pandemic 'Critical Time' For Co-Operation: EU Envoy

Pandemic 'Critical Time' For Co-Operation: EU Envoy

COVID 19 crisis shows need for solidarity says head of the EU delegation to Turkey.

The ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic is a "critical time for co-operation and solidarity," the head of the EU delegation to Turkey said on Monday.
"This crisis [COVID-19] shows that only together we are strong enough to face it," said Ambassador Christian Berger in an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, adding that the EU was taking the necessary steps to protect public health against COVID-19, supporting vaccine research and reducing the socio-economic impact of the outbreak.
The EU member states have been dealing with the immediate impact of the crisis for several weeks, as the continent has been the epicenter of the global outbreak, said Berger, adding that member countries and EU institutions had gone into "crisis management mode" with the European Commission, coordinating a "joined up" response against the outbreak.
"We are taking resolute action to help EU citizens return home, reinforce our public health sectors, launch the necessary procurement of protective equipment, support research for finding a vaccine and mitigate the socio-economic impact in the European Union," he said.
Berger noted that the European Commission had launched a program to supply protective equipment to member countries, including face masks, gloves, goggles, face-shields, surgical masks, overalls, ventilators and testing kits.
"The Commission will stockpile medical equipment such as ventilators and protective masks. This will be done through the EU's RescEU civil protection mechanism. The Emergency Response Coordination Centre will manage the distribution of the equipment to ensure it goes where it is needed most," said he.
Underlining that there were temporary restrictions on non-mandatory travel to the EU with some exceptions, Berger said the commission issued guidelines to ensure the fast and continuous flow of goods within the bloc and from neighboring countries to maintain supply chains.
He also said 250,000 EU citizens had been repatriated to their homes from many countries around the world and that repatriations continued with the EU's logistical and financial support.
Necessary solidarity
During the interview, Berger responded to criticism from global media that the EU failed to support Italy and Spain, the worst-hit countries from COVID-19 in Europe.
Berger said EU countries have been supporting each other by donating "protective equipment such as masks," allowing cross-border treatment of patients and "bringing stranded citizens back home."
"We see and we welcome the solidarity showed by Member States who are receiving patients from overburdened hospitals in other Member States, as well as providing personal protective equipment," he said.
"This is a critical time for co-operation and solidarity. We are doing all we can to get more help to Italy and Spain, and others. This is a top priority. Without solidarity or Europe-wide solutions we cannot effectively deal with this public health emergency," he added.
Asked whether the recent crisis could damage the unity of the bloc, Berger said: "This crisis shows that only together we are strong enough to face it."
'Turkish health care system is well-equipped'
Stressing that there was no "uniform way" to tackle the current pandemic, Berger said Turkey understood the seriousness of the situation and has been taking the necessary measures.
"The Turkish health care system is well-equipped and I hope that it will not be over-stretched in the coming weeks," he said.
Warning of risks that the global economic damage caused by the current crisis could prompt an "inward-looking approach" by many countries, Berger urged the EU and Turkey to continue to promote "strong trade relations both bilaterally and globally."
"In the past weeks, we have concretely seen how important flawless cross-border trade is and the negative impact that commercial obstacles can have. Issues need to be solved and we should engage to solve them together," he added.
Protecting citizens, saving lives
"The protection of citizens is our first priority. This includes economic measures by the EU and the European Investment Bank to save jobs and support companies hit by the crisis," said Berger.
He said the European Investment Bank would create an additional €20 billion ($21.6 billion) of investments in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), through its own capital as well as the EU budget.
"The commission will make available €1 billion in an EU budget guarantee to the European Investment Fund (EIF), so it can provide liquidity to SMEs," he added.
Emphasizing that liquidity could only be provided to SMEs through such support, Berger noted that the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, which includes €37 billion, was approved and that the EU Solidarity Fund could provide support to member states suffering from a public health crisis.
Berger said the main financial response in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak would come from member states' national budgets.
However, he added that the European Commission has taken measures to "allow the maximum flexibility to our budgetary rules to help national governments financially support health care systems and businesses and to keep people in employment during the crisis."
Vaccine clinical testing by June 2020
Berger said the European Commission was investing up to €140 million to develop vaccines against the virus and "launch clinical testing" by June 2020, as well as new treatments, diagnostic tests and medical systems to "prevent the spread of the coronavirus and save lives."
He said a panel of independent epidemiologists and virologists were giving "science-based" advice to member states and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control on health care, civil protection and policy measures to address the long-term consequences of the virus, with the commission publishing recommendations.
The EU's Horizon 2020 research and innovation funding program also supports 18 projects involving 136 research teams, said Berger.
"The Innovative Medicines Initiative launched an emergency call funded by Horizon 2020 and will be matched by the pharma industry. The European Innovation Council Accelerator has attracted a significant number of start-ups and SMEs with innovations that could also help tackle the pandemic," he added.
"The EU is fully involved in the multilateral response to the coronavirus crisis and stands alongside the G20, United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Health Organisation to step up a forceful and co-ordinated global response to the pandemic."
Since appearing in Wuhan, China, last December, the novel coronavirus has spread to at least 183 countries and regions.
Data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University shows worldwide infections topped 1.28 million, with over 70,500 deaths and recoveries exceeding 270,300.
*Writing by Busra Nur Bilgic Cakmak -

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