How The EU Has Helped Italy During The Coronavirus Crisis

Is the European Union failing us or is it helping Italy and all the bloc's countries during the coronavirus pandemic?

European Union Help Italy Coronavirus

Is the European Union failing us or is it helping Italy during the coronavirus pandemic?

Throughout the history of the European Union, it is common to observe that during times of crisis, national governments as well as the population often ask themselves what the role of the European Union is.

Many citizens have questioned the EU’s contribution to each country’s wealth, while the notions of solidarity and unity have been promptly overshadowed. In the minds of the European citizens, the question “what does the EU do to help me?” comes forward, ignoring a much more complicated and self-examining point at issue: people fail to ask themselves “what have we done to ensure the EU can help my country?”

This mindset started to prevail during the last severe crisis faced by Europe, namely the 2014-2015 migration crisis.

That critical situation, which we had discussed in this article, showed the European Union’s flaws as a system and questioned the core notion of solidarity between Member States. However, it also highlighted the flaws of each country in terms of accommodation, registration, and hospitality.

This could be seen especially in Italy, with a system that was undeniably unprepared to cope with higher numbers of migrants reaching its shores; governments and citizens, however, were quick to blame the EU for the tragic and unexpected situation.

The Common European Asylum System (CEAS), the body in charge of creating common standards in each European country, was far from perfect, but this was only one part of a much more complex problem. As it often happens, the truth lies in the middle: in that case, the blame was to be shared between the EU and its member states.

In 2020, Europe faces another unprecedented emergency, a pandemic that, unlike the migration crisis, has hit all Europeans and has already had a visible and worrying impact on Europe’s economy.

Everywhere one can read articles and journalists’ opinions on how the EU is failing its citizens, and that the block’s system is unready to manage this new, unforeseen coronavirus pandemic.

In Italy, as in many other European countries, there is a belief that the EU is doing nothing to protect its population and that we would probably be better off without a Union.

The European Union and the importance of finding the right sources

Instead of rattling off numbers and raw data on the matter, it is important to understand what the areas of competencies of the EU are with regard to coronavirus. Only then, we can assess whether what has been done is enough.

There is much inside the EU that needs to be improved and amended. The beautiful and glorious notions of solidarity and unity in diversity are well written on paper, but a true and solid consensus is yet to be seen among Europe’s member states.

It is our aim to explain, however, the concrete steps and measures that the EU has been putting into place since the beginning of the year to protect its citizens from the recent coronavirus pandemic.

Undoubtedly, the EU is working on this issue: a simple search on their website can prove it, so saying that it is doing ‘just nothing’ is at best an inaccurate, simplistic, and misguided statement.

Indeed, the EU is not a simple entity, but its power and fields of work are mainly (but not only) divided between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. I will not dwell into details on the different functions of those bodies, but this short informational video can explain the core functions and separation of power of the different bodies.

This infographic is a useful tool for initially understanding the general EU’s action regarding coronavirus. By scrolling down this simple chart, it is immediately possible to see how heterogeneous the intervention has been, as the European Union covers all areas of medicine, economy, as well as information, research, and traveling impacted by the pandemic.

In particular, the European Commission (EC) has been among the most involved entities within the EU in the response against coronavirus.

A good way to stay up to date with what is going on with the EC — not only concerning the coronavirus crisis — is to follow their accounts on Instagram: the Representation of the Commission in Italy, Europa in Italia, has a very active account, but there is also the general account of the European Commission for interesting news and facts.

The EU response in a nutshell

On March 2, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen decided to establish a coronavirus response team within the Commission to coordinate the EU response to the pandemic.

This is important to know because such a team has allowed the block to bring together all strands of action, including medical, economic, mobility, and transport. The reason being — as each and every one of us has experienced — the coronavirus pandemic is not only about health, and it affects all parts of society.

To better understand the EU’s actions in these last few months, the Commission has decided to set up a detailed calendar which can be found on their website, explaining all the measures enacted since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis.

Here are a few facts related to different matters that interest all individuals and have helped us during these uncertain times: already on January 28, the EC enacted a civil protection mechanism for the repatriation of EU citizens, and on 1 February the first repatriations by air from France and Germany brought home 447 European citizens from the Chinese region of Wuhan.

Since then, those repatriated through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism were 66,041, of whom 58,807 EU citizens. So, if you happened to be abroad in February, the Commission would be the one responsible to bring you home safe and sound.

What about the funds allocated for Italy in this difficult situation?

Despite the aforementioned support, it is reported that many people complain that the EU is not issuing (enough) money or economic help to member states, especially to those who are most in need.

Yet, on February 24, in order to put together measures on global preparedness, prevention, and containment of the virus, the Commission announced a new aid package worth 232 million euros. This package would help detect and diagnose the disease, care for infected people, and prevent further transmission. Since the Commission prides itself to be transparent and upright, here’s a breakdown of how the money is going to be spent.

More about money: on March 10, President von der Leyen also announced a ‘Corona Response Investment Initiative’ enabling around 60 billion euros of unused cohesion policy funds to be redirected to the fight against COVID-19.

Moreover, in April, the Commission introduced a 100 billion euro solidarity instrument which is helping businesses stay afloat all over Europe, including Italy. This financial support has become extremely renowned and is called SURE — Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency.

But what about Italy, one of the most severely hit countries within the European Union?

Everyone has heard of the team of doctors from Romania who joined the Italian medical staff in the fight against coronavirus. That was actually one of the two EU teams who have been deployed to Italy through the above-mentioned EU Civil Protection Mechanism of the European Commission.

In April, crews of doctors and nurses from Romania and Norway were dispatched to Milan and Bergamo to help Italian medical workers. Moreover, through the same operation, Austria was able to offer and send to Italy over 3,000 liters of disinfectant.

It is also worth mentioning that the European Commission has adopted new measures to foster the agricultural and food sector in a way in which the cash flow of farmers will increase, while at the same the administrative burden for national and regional authorities and for farmers will be reduced. This is an especially important measure for countries where agriculture is particularly prominent, as in the case of the Italian economy.

Messages of hope from the European Union

Again with regard to Italy — at the end of April, the EC approved an Italian aid scheme to support the economy in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The total budget of the measure communicated by the Italian authorities reaches 200 billion euros.

Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner currently in charge of competition policy, stated that “the scheme will help companies cover their immediate working capital and investment needs in these difficult times.”

She further promised: “We are continuing to work closely with the member states to make sure that national support measures can help mitigate the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.”

In May, batches of FFP2 protective masks have been handed to Italy through the new program rescEU — a new common European reserve of medical equipment, which was set up in April to further help those countries that have been most affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

It has been announced that 330 thousand masks had been delivered at the beginning of May to Italy, Spain, and Croatia.

However, these are only some examples of the EU measures taking place in Italy to help against the spread of COVID-19: all initiatives and details of the money to be used against the pandemic can be accessed here.

Is this enough to help Italy?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. Nonetheless, it is crucial to stress that the above-mentioned maneuvers announced by the Commission were warmly welcomed by David Maria Sassoli, the President of the European Council.

Sassoli assured that the European Parliament remains committed to getting these measures approved, and told European citizens that “COVID-19 obliges everyone to be responsible and cautious. It is a delicate moment for all of us. The Parliament will continue to work to exercise its duties. No virus can block democracy.”

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