In a recent statement, the European Commission has recommended that Member States comply with three preconditions before lifting any restrictions imposed in order to combat covid-19 and that any actions must be coordinated by all twenty-seven member states.
At the headquarters of the Community Executive, the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, presented a ‘roadmap’ prepared in conjunction with guidelines established to survey measures designed to contain the pandemic in the European Union, at a time when several Member States have initiated action to effect a gradual return to ‘normality’.
For Brussels, three key criteria must be satisfied as part of individual Member States’ decision to start lifting restrictive measures:
- Epidemiological data must show that the spread of the new coronavirus has significantly decreased and stabilised.
- Health systems must have sufficient capacity to respond quickly in terms of intensive care, available beds and access to medicines and pharmaceutical products to a new strain.
- There must be appropriate monitoring systems, including the capacity for large-scale testing, to detect the spread of the virus and possible new waves.
The ‘roadmap’ prepared by the European Commission, in consultation with the then President of the European Council, also establishes three “basic principles” that should guide the actions of Member States: measures must be based on science-based data and have public health as a central point, there must be “respect and solidarity” among the Member States, and all actions must be coordinated among members without exception.
Regarding this last point, on which Brussels has been very insistent, the document stresses that “a lack of coordination in the lifting of restrictive measures could have a negative impact on all Member States and create political friction.”
Defending these actions, Brussels added that “Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach, Member States must notify each other and the European Commission in good time before announcing the lifting of measures, and must take into account other points of view”.
The Commission’s ‘roadmap’ establishes a set of recommendations for the process of surveying the measures taken to contain the pandemic covid-19, and in particular emphasises that “actions must be gradual with all derestriction measures being undertaken in different phases, ensuring that there is enough time between each phase to allow for adequate impact studies to be taken.”
“General measures must be progressively replaced by specific measures”, such as “protecting the most vulnerable groups for a longer time, facilitating the gradual return of necessary economic activities, intensifying the regular cleaning and disinfection of transport centres, shops and workplaces and replacing general states of emergency with specific government interventions to ensure transparency and democratic accountability.”
Brussels also argues that “internal border controls should be lifted in a coordinated manner” and travel restrictions and border controls should be removed only “when the epidemiological situation in border regions converges sufficiently”. “External borders must reopen in a second phase and take into account the spread of the virus outside the EU.”
The relaunch of economic activity must also be phased in, argues the community executive, pointing out that “there are several models that can be implemented, for example, jobs suitable for teleworking, economic importance and shift working”.
“The entire population must not return to the workplace at the same time,” warns Brussels.
Turning to mass gatherings of people, the Brussels ‘roadmap’ argues that this should be “progressively permitted,” with the Member States reflecting on the most appropriate sequence, taking into account the specificities of the different categories of activities, starting for example with schools and universities. Specific measures would be required for commercial operation (factories) and social activity (cafes and restaurants), with possible limits on the maximum number of people allowed, and ending with large concentrations of masses, such as concerts and festivals.
“I want to make it clear that this is not a sign that confinement and containment measures can be lifted from now on but provides a common framework to support Member States’ decisions. In general terms, we recommend a gradual approach, and each action must be continuously monitored,” declared Ursula von der Leyen at the press conference.
The presentation of this European “roadmap” for lifting covid-19 containment measures had already been scheduled for last week. Still, the adverse reaction of several Member States – who feared that Brussels would send a negative signal in this way – obliged the community executive to step back and deepen an issue that is admittedly “very delicate” and that the competence of Member States is recognised.
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