Check against delivery!
Today we held an informal meeting of the Development Ministers by videoconference. The purpose of the meeting was to launch a “Team Europe” package to support partner countries in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences.
In this global pandemic, international solidarity is not just a matter of staying true to our values. It is also about making sure that we win the fight against the virus together, that we stop the spreading, that we do not have to live through these times again in a few months. Unless the virus is defeated everywhere, it is not defeated. A global pandemic can only be solved globally, with united, swift and decisive global action, as we are presenting today.
For many of our partners, it could be the worst crisis in decades. For the world economy, it is the most disruptive crisis since the end of the World War. It will have serious social, economic, political implications, especially in countries without enough doctors, testing and protective medical equipment, with no access to clean water - the consequences of the pandemic could be devastating. Being in lockdown means having no revenue, having no revenue means having food shortages for entire families.
The aim is to help the most vulnerable countries in particular in Africa, the EU’s neighbourhood, but also Asia and the Pacific, as well as in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The “Team Europe” approach will combine resources from the EU, its Member States, and financial institutions, in particular the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
The European Commission and the European Investment Bank have already pledged more than €15.6 billion from existing external action resources. And with the commitment of EU Member States and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development today, we will reach a figure of more than €20 billion.
To be more concrete, we agreed to focus on three important aspects during the meeting today.
First, responding to the immediate health crisis and the resulting humanitarian needs. For example, €10 million have already been mobilised to help Ethiopia increase the number of diagnostic laboratories, test kits and treatment centres, and we have also mobilised €8 million for the same purpose in the Caribbean.
The second purpose is to strengthen health, water and sanitation systems, as well as partner countries’ capacities and preparedness to deal with the pandemic. For example, in Nigeria, we will commit €50 million to this end, through the United Nations Coronavirus Response Plan. And in Sudan, we are working to ensure access to clean water and hygiene services and raise awareness about the virus through a humanitarian project worth €10 million.
I want to stress that also in Venezuela and countries in the region, we are supporting the Pan-American Health Organization and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent to help contain the spread and prepare for response with €9 million.
And the third purpose is to mitigate the immediate social and economic consequences. Again, for example, we have already approved a €240 million package for Jordan and Lebanon to support vulnerable local households and Syrian refugees.
We will also work with the private sector, with small and medium enterprises. In many African countries, we will front-load budget support to address the economic consequences of the crisis. In Latin America, for example in Bolivia, we provide €5 million in budget support to deal with emergencies caused by the pandemic.
All in all, the European Union, together with the Member States, is and will continue being a major international aid contributor. “Team Europe” will be a way of sharing partnership with the United Nations, International Financial Institutions, and the G7 and the G20 countries.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-188754
Q. Is any of this funding actually new money? If so, where is it coming from? If it is all reallocation, where is it being cut from?
Well, I think I already said that, but I want to repeat in order to clarify and not produce any kind of misunderstanding.
The bulk of the funding comes from the reorientation of existing funds and programs to make them relevant to tackle the coronavirus specifically and includes €5.2 billion in loans from the European Investment Bank. These loans will be accelerated, but there is no fresh money.
It is the same amount of resources, which were lacking implementation and these resources have been reoriented in order to face what has to be considered now a strong priority.
And the same thing goes for the loans from the European Investment Bank.
Q. Can you guarantee that no partner country will receive less than it otherwise would have as a result of this “reorienting”? Was anything discussed or decided on debt relief?
Yes, for sure. There is no country losing financial help or support from the European Union. Every country will receive the same amount of money, but depending on the country and on the degree of implementation of the programs, the amount reallocated are different. But adding up, every country will receive the same amount of money, no one will be losing due to this reorienting exercise.
About debt relief, we have not discussed this issue today. But I want to say clearly that we, European Union and Member States, are supportive of a global, coordinated response to the joint appeal by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank on a debt moratorium for the poorest countries, with concessional loans from the International Development Association to easing the debt burden from bilateral official creditors.
Q. The European Union had already announced €129 million in support for developing countries. Out of the €15 billion package of support for the global response announced today, how much is earmarked for African countries?
Let me use my answer to your question to repeat, once again, that Africa is a priority for the European Union and we are very much aware that it is under a huge pressure, that the crisis could have consequences of an entirely different scale than in other parts of the world.
African countries face immediate healthcare needs and will bear economic and social consequences of the global pandemic. That is why €3.25 billion will be channelled to Africa, and this includes €2.06 billion for sub-Saharan Africa and €1.19 billion for the Northern African neighbourhood countries.
Support will focus on strengthening preparedness and response capacities of countries with the weakest healthcare systems.
We will also support research. For instance, the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership will support research into the virus and strengthen research capacities in sub-Saharan Africa with €25 million from Horizon 2020.
And maybe a bigger example: we will accelerate investment in coronavirus testing labs in Africa with €80 million for the European Health Guarantee Platform for Africa, working together with the European Investment Bank and with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Q. Compte tenu du manque de capacités sanitaires des pays africains, pensez-vous qu'il y a suffisamment de temps pour attendre un vaccin? Et que pensez-vous de la polémique, en France, autour de la suggestion de tester un vaccin en Afrique?
Pour la première question, nous n’attendons pas le vaccin, nous ne sommes pas en « mode attente », au contraire, nous travaillons, nous agissons pour l’obtenir. En Europe, avec ce que nous annonçons aujourd’hui, en Afrique et dans le monde, nous soutenons nos partenaires dans la lutte contre le coronavirus que nous ne gagnerons pas sans avoir un vaccin. J’insiste, nous n’attendons pas, nous travaillons beaucoup pour l’obtenir.
Et par rapport à cette polémique, bien sûr, l’idée que l’Afrique pourrait servir de laboratoire pour faire des essais, pour tester un vaccin pour le reste le monde est évidemment inacceptable. Je pense aussi que les personnes citées ont déjà clarifié ces propos.
Il est évident que nous avons besoins d’une réponse globale à une pandémie globale. Nous avons toujours encouragé la coopération et la solidarité internationales, ainsi qu'un multilatéralisme plus fort, et nous continuerons à le faire.
Les conditions d'essai d'un vaccin contre le coronavirus, comme contre n’importe quelle autre maladie, doivent suivre des règles éthiques et des protocoles sanitaires très stricts.
Nous soutenons la recherche et les laboratoires scientifiques dans des conditions appropriées et éthiques, au profit de tous les pays. Je ne peux pas être plus clair.
Q. The situation with the coronavirus in occupied areas in Donbass, Ukraine, could be even graver, than in Africa, as OSCE and other humanitarian NGOs have no access to the Donetsk and Luhansk areas and to the COVID-19-related data. What kind of initiatives could be undertaken by the EU to convince Russia to grant access and, ideally, stop occupation?
The European Union has always fully supported the work of the OSCE in eastern Ukraine. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, it is even more vital that Russia and the armed formations it backs fully respect the mandate of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission.
This mission must have safe, secure and unhindered access throughout Ukraine, including parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions currently outside of the Ukrainian government’s control.
United Nations agencies, non-governmental organisations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, who are also facing difficulties in accessing these areas, must also be granted full and unhindered access to these areas, so that they can deliver humanitarian aid to the people in need.
We continue to engage with all stakeholders, to resolve the current situation and I want to stress that the missions must have secure, safe and unhindered access throughout Ukraine, including parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions currently outside of the Ukrainian government’s control.
Q. Have the authorities of Belarus asked for help to fight the coronavirus crisis? If yes, which aid have they asked? There is aid foreseen for the Eastern Partnership countries, in what way are you going to help Belarus?
Yes, Belarus has requested assistance for its healthcare system and to address the macro-financial and macroeconomic impact of this situation. Also they have been asking for financial assistance. We are now exploring how we can respond to these requests, looking in particular at economic support, for the health care system and for civil society. The total amount of this support has not yet been decided but I can in advance tell you that it will be around €60 million.
In addition, already last week, the Commission announced €30 million for the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood, once again to support health and medical supplies, and an additional €10 million for vulnerable groups. We also foresee around €300 million in credit and grants to small and medium enterprises in the Eastern Partnership countries to support liquidity, easier access to credit and to boost businesses after the crisis.
To summarise, the message is simple and clear: the European Union is there to support our partners and neighbours through these very challenging times and we will be as responsive and flexible as we can in answering calls for help wherever they come from.
Q. The European Union recently announced the start of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. Is the European Union ready to send a positive signal about membership perspective to the Eastern Partnership countries as well, including it in the final statement of the Eastern Partnership Summit in June? What is your opinion about cooperation in the frame of the formula “Eastern Partnership plus Three”?
We hope that this year’s Eastern Partnership Summit should be a moment to take stock of all that what we have achieved – and I think it is quite substantial– and to look ahead to doing more together and continue going forward if the Summit takes place, given the ongoing coronavirus situation. But we can also do the Summit by videoconference, which is becoming a normal way of doing this kind of meetings and it works quite well, by the way.
Our focus continues to be on building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity, stability, cooperation and resilience. Our Eastern Partnership framework places a high importance on the concept of differentiation. That is why we have more ambitious Association Agreements including Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas with three of our Eastern Partners (Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova), a slightly different agreement with Armenia, and are now negotiating different arrangements with Azerbaijan and Belarus. I hope that we are going to send a continuous positive message to improve our relationship with our Eastern Partner countries.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-188755