Minister Tuppurainen: Europe is responding to the corona crisis together

Government Communications Department 18.3.2020 8.00 | Published in English on 20.3.2020 at 10.00
Column

Finland is not facing the corona crisis alone. We share a common Europe and our fates are intertwined. In recent days, the purpose of the European Union has taken on a new significance, as Europe has become the centre of the coronavirus epidemic. The coronavirus has already affected many European countries in an unprecedented way, and preparations are being made to deal with its further expansion.

European cooperation plays a key role here, both in saving lives and in repairing economic damage. Neither Finland nor any other European country is isolated from this crisis, nor left on its own. The epidemic does not divide Europe into north and south, east and west, or new and old Member States. Similar measures are being taken to control the disease from one country to another. All countries are now addressing the economic effects of the crisis in the same way: the Member States are prepared with a stimulus plan to rectify the collapse in demand putting a stranglehold on European businesses. The Commission has made a proposal to relax the EU state aid and budget rules so that Member States will have sufficient room for manoeuvre in their national support measures. The situation affects all of us together.

In addition to national stimulus measures, we must use all the EU tools at our disposal to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus. Last week, the Commission announced a EUR 37 billion corona support package. It consists of unspent finances from the EU budget, of which EUR 8 billion remains and which can be released for use immediately. In addition, EUR 29 billion will be channelled from the EU budget, and almost the same amount from the remaining structural funds, to curb the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.

Plans are also in place to use other EU financial instruments as a buffer for the economic impact of the coronavirus. The European Investment Bank will receive EUR 1 billion in additional guarantees for loans to small and medium-sized enterprises in particular. This way, the Commission estimates that the Bank can allocate EUR 8 billion to 100,000 European SMEs. Last week, the European Central Bank also announced its remedies to alleviate the situation. Among other things, the ECB is offering banks affordable loans to finance SMEs suffering from the effects of the virus.  These are all extremely important measures in a challenging situation.

Neither the EU nor the eurozone will collapse from the impact of the coronavirus. Since the crisis of the last decade, resilience of the euro has been strengthened considerably.

At the national level, many countries have proposed exceptional measures and restrictions on the movement of people, for example. In their meeting yesterday, the EU leaders also agreed to temporarily restrict travel to the EU area for one month. It is important for the EU countries to coordinate their restrictive measures so as not to disrupt the transport of goods within the internal market. This way, we can ensure that there are enough goods in stores and that the necessary products end up at their destinations.

There are now high expectations on the European Union and its joint actions, and these must be met. We will strengthen our common situational awareness at regular ministerial meetings. Member States can exchange information on the effects of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, such as bans on major events and school closures, in their countries. We must ensure the sufficiency of medical devices, respiratory protective equipment and other supplies throughout the Union, for example through joint procurement. When it comes to developing a coronavirus vaccine, European research cooperation is indispensable.

The EU leaders convened last week via videoconference to discuss crisis management measures, and the debate continued on Tuesday. Finland is actively involved in the EU’s measures and emphasises the importance of joint efforts. Even in exceptional situations, the Union must preserve its functional capacity, and regular ministerial meetings by telephone or videoconferencing are therefore necessary.

We are living in exceptional times in Europe. The unique nature of the European Union lies in the sovereignty of its Member States. This means that even in the midst of the corona crisis, the Union must operate in conditions where the Member States make their own decisions. Despite this, the EU has demonstrated its ability to coordinate actions and fill in the gaps between decisions made separately. It also has its own powers. Now, this is all being put to the test.

Europe has been hit by different epidemics for millennia. They have affected the development of the continent in many ways. Despite its horrible effects, the current corona crisis has also brought people together. Differences between governments and opposition parties have narrowed, and young people have taken on responsibility for older people. Jean Monnet, one of the founding figures of the EU, said that European cooperation is meant not to unite states, but to unite people. Faced with this scourge, the people of Europe are precisely that – people. Together and alike.

Tytti Tuppurainen
Minister for European Affairs and Ownership Steering