BRUSSELS – For weeks the coronavirus outbreak has shaken Europe with many countries launching strategies to try to stop its expansion and impact.
These individual actions have come in the context of a global health crisis, which begs the question: what has the European Union done to help?
One way has been financial, the EU adopted a package of measures on Thursday to give countries flexibility when applying tax rules.
It has also, exceptionally, allowed governments to channel state aid in the form of tax benefits, guarantees and public loans to companies and to support banks.
This system, which was also used in 2009 during the financial crisis, allows Brussels to authorise public aid that would not normally be accepted, provided it is used to ease a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state.
It will allow EU countries to ensure that there is sufficient liquidity for businesses of all sizes and help preserve economic activity during and after the outbreak.
Brussels has also mobilised 37 billion euros in structural funds to help fight the pandemic.
The EU has not yet used all its financial artillery and could still deploy the European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone rescue fund, which has 410 billion euros at its disposal.
The majority of political parties in European Parliament, unions and academics have called for the organisation, which was created during the financial crisis, to be put into action but it is a politically delicate process, largely due to the stigma generated by an institution associated with austerity.
The role of the ESM is to act as a final resort lender for member countries when the markets stop the flow of financing.
Another area where the EU has stepped in has been at its borders.
Brussels agreed on Monday to close its borders for at least 30 days and has deployed a series of emergency measures to protect freight, guarantee supply and mitigate the impact of the coronavirus in the transport sector.
It has also co-financed the organisation of flights to repatriate more than 100,000 Europeans who were outside the continent when the crisis hit.
Another area the EU has offered assistance in has been with medical supplies.
The European Commission announced on Thursday it would launch a strategic reserve of equipment necessary to prevent and treat the coronavirus so that supplies can be directed to EU countries with the greatest needs.
Spain requested equipment on March 15 through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, which is normally used to assist in emergencies such as fires, according to Brussels.
The new reserve will have an initial value of 50 million euros, of which 90 per cent will be financed by the EU and 10 per cent by member states.
The EC also launched a tender for the joint purchase of assisted breathing apparatus and on Monday offered 80 million euros of funding to German laboratory CureVac, which is developing a potential coronavirus vaccine.
Europe will receive help from China, which will send more than two million masks, including 200,000 N95s which have been in the highest demand by health services, as well as 50,000 coronavirus testing kits.