by Keith Zahra
The European Commission is directing all available resources to save lives and support livelihoods in these times of crisis. Today, it has announced the setting up of an unprecedented €100 billion solidarity instrument to help workers keep their incomes and help businesses stay afloat, called SURE. It is also proposing to redirect all available structural funds to the response to the coronavirus.
They key elements of support are as follows:
Beyond the direct health impact, the restrictions imposed to limited the spreading of the pandemic have brought business activity to a halt and put millions of jobs around the continent at risk. Through a new instrument called SURE, the EU will provide up to to €100 billion in loans to countries that need it to ensure that workers receive an income and businesses keep their staff. This allows people to continue to pay their rent, bills and food shopping and helps provide much needed stability to the economy.
In particular, SURE will support short-time work schemes and similar measures to help Member States protect jobs, employees and self-employed against the risk of dismissal and loss of income. Firms will be able to temporarily reduce the hours of employees or suspend work altogether, with income support provided by the State for the hours not worked. The self-employed will receive income replacement for the current emergency.
Despite the strong production efforts of industry, Member States still face severe shortages of protective gear and respiratory equipment in some areas. They also lack sufficient treatment facilities and would benefit from being able to move patients to areas with more resources and dispatch medical staff to hardest-hit places. Support will also be needed for mass testing, for medical research, deploying new treatments, and for producing, purchasing and distributing vaccines across the EU.
In the Commission’s proposal, all the available remaining funds from this year’s EU budget will be directed help to respond to the needs of European health systems.
€3 billion will be put into the Emergency Support Instrument, of which €300 million will be allocated to RescEU to support the common stockpile of equipment. The first priority would be managing the public health crisis and securing vital equipment and supplies, from ventilators to personal protective gear, from mobile medical teams to medical assistance for the most vulnerable, including those in refugee camps. The second area of focus would be on enabling the scaling up of testing efforts. The proposal would also enable the Commission to procure directly on behalf of the Member States.
COHESION AND STRUCTURAL FUNDS
All uncommitted money from the three Cohesion Policy funds – the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund – will be mobilised to address the effects of the public health crisis.
To make sure that funds can be re-directed to where they are most urgently needed, transfers between funds as well as between categories of funding, between regions and between policy objectives will be made possible.
Moreover, in a significant change intended to assist Member States in this difficult moment, the Commission is for the time being scrapping co-financing requirements. This means that Member States will not be expected to even fork out a small portion of a project’s costs to ensure eligibility.
The Commission has also reduced significantly the administrative burden relating to implementation and auditing, while reporting requirements on existent projects have been postponed to allow Member States breathing space and time to focus on the allocation of the available funding.
FISHERIES AND AGRICULTURE
The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund will be made more flexible, to support fishermen for the temporary cessation of fishing activities, aquaculture farmers for the temporary suspension or reduction of production and provide support and producer organisations for the temporary storage of fishery and aquaculture products.
Support for the temporary cessation of fishing activities caused by the coronavirus outbreak will not be subject to the financial capping applicable to the other cases of temporary cessation, thus allowing Member States to grant support on the basis of needs.
Farmers and other rural development beneficiaries will be able to benefit from loans or guarantees of up to €200,000 at favourable conditions, such as very low interest rates or favourable payment schedules under the EAFRD. Usually these financial instruments have to be linked to investments, under this new measure, they can help farmers with their cash flow to finance costs or compensate temporary losses.
The Commission will also shortly propose a range of measures to ensure that farmers and other beneficiaries can get the support they need from the Common Agricultural Policy, by granting more time to introduce applications for support and more time to allow administrations to process them, increasing advances for direct payments and rural development payments, and offering additional flexibility for on-the-spot checks to minimise the need for physical contact and reduce administrative burden.