This is no easy task. The coronavirus pandemic has the entire global community in its grip. It is the world’s most pressing common challenge, which we can only tackle with a global approach and multi-level cooperation.
The European Union works on all fronts to support these efforts. We took the initiative already back in May 2020, to co-host an international pledging conference. Billions of euros were raised for developing and deploying effective diagnostics, treatments and vaccines, as well as for ensuring that these life-saving tools are universally available and affordable. An EU vaccines strategy was another priority, presented in June 2020, to support efforts to accelerate the development and availability of safe and effective vaccines through contracting pharmaceutical companies. Running clinical trials while investing in production capacity proceeded as an urgency.
During these efforts, our partners were always in our thinking. The European Union launched its “Team Europe” initiative to support partner countries in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences. The objective of the “Team Europe” approach is to combine resources from the EU, its Member States, and the European Financial Institutions, in particular the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The overall figure of the “Team Europe” package in support of our partners worldwide has reached €38.5 billion.
In 2021, the long-awaited vaccines have given us hope that we may be at the beginning of the end of this pandemic. Beyond the EU vaccination roll-out which started on 27 December 2020, the European Union is committed to ensuring that everyone who needs a vaccine gets it, anywhere in the world. No one is safe until everyone is safe.
The EU and its Member States is the leading donor to support the COVAX Facility, which aims at securing access to the COVID-19 vaccine for 92 countries, in our neighbourhood and in Africa as quickly as possible. Egypt is among them. COVAX is the international vehicle for delivering on vaccine solidarity and we welcome that first deliveries have been taking place since the end of February 2021. To date, Team Europe has announced over €2.2 billion, including €1 billion from the EU budget, for the COVAX Facility to help secure 1.3 billion doses of vaccination. More support comes from national contributions of the EU Member States. One out of three vaccines delivered by COVAX has been possible through Team Europe support. Egypt is receiving now the first shipment.
Since March 2020, the Team Europe approach provided the framework for a coordinated COVID-19 response in Egypt.
We have managed to adjust the EU ongoing programmes and identify new actions to ensure support to Egypt in the best possible way in these difficult times to help mitigate the impact of the outbreak in response to the immediate health crisis and the resulting humanitarian, socio-economic and sanitary needs. To support Egypt's public health system to get prepared and to respond efficiently to Covid19 in particular, we offered in December €89 million in budget support to the Ministry of Health. The EU contracted a specific programme for immediate socio-economic response targeting the most vulnerable and women. EU-funded projects implemented by local civil society organisations were also adapted swiftly, to ensure adequate access to health services for the most vulnerable.
Together with the European Financial Institutions, ongoing projects were redirected where possible to support the Egyptian COVID-19 response. This included short-term support to the health sector but also long-term support to SMEs, youth and women. Community resilience was enhanced through the adjustment or adoption of programmes implemented in partnership with AFD, KfW and EIB, with an emphasis on access to clean water and sanitation.
Increased access to finance has been one of the cornerstone of Team Europe response in Egypt, in particular through the mobilization of EUR 1.65 bn between April 2020 and March 2021 by EIB to support SMEs through several financial intermediaries and the EBRD’s commitment to make repayment of loans easier for MSMEs. As part of its COVID Solidarity Package, from April 2020 to February 2021, the EBRD opened credit lines worth €784 million for commercial banks to provide support to local SMEs and corporate liquidity needs.
EIB also is supporting the development of clean and safe urban transport infrastructure with a commitment of EUR 1.128 bn.
Egypt is a strategic partner in the region, with which the European Union has a long historical friendship. The EU Delegation and the embassies of EU Member States, as well as the European Financial Institutions cherish the EU – Egypt partnership, based on the pursuit of commonly agreed values. We should continue striving to overcome this unprecedented shared challenge as quickly as possible. Together we will get through the crisis.
This joint Op-Ed was originally published in Arabic in Al Masry Al Youm daily Egyptian newspaper on 3 April 2021. It can be accessed via the following link: https://www.almasryalyoum.com/news/details/2302437