Faced with the disastrous consequences of the Covid-19 epidemic in Europe, both on its economy and on the health of its citizens, the European Commission considers that it is its duty to assist the Member States of the European Union (EU) to combat this “exceptional event beyond the control of governments”. A situation which propels the European structural funds to the rank of privileged tool in the fight against the epidemic.
The critical situation in Italy and the rest of Europe justifies an exceptional economic recovery by the European authorities. The aim is twofold: firstly to cushion the violence of the economic shock by protecting the EU’s SMEs, but also to support research and essential health measures in the fight against the coronavirus and to protect the health of millions of citizens.
As Welcomeurope has already reported, the European Structural Funds are an essential aspect of this health fight. In the spirit of its cohesion policy, the Commission is proposing immediate support to the tune of €37 billion for all its Member States. The principle is simple, the European structural funds – ESF, ERDF, EAFRD – not spent by the Member States (due to lack of projects or national funding) will be kept by them and used as if they were their own national funding.
These funds, available immediately, will therefore be used as a priority to support small and medium-sized enterprises impacted by health measures and the growing needs of health systems in terms of technology, innovation and research.
The Commission’s use of the European Structural Funds in the fight against the virus has the advantage of speed since the Member States already have them at their disposal.
Despite this responsiveness, the decision is controversial because the amount of funding is determined by the level of development of the region benefiting from it and not by the intensity of the epidemic on its territory. This salutary use of the Structural Funds is welcome, but it is urgent to supplement this support in order to redress this imbalance. With this in mind, one of the avenues envisaged by the Commission is the use of the Union’s EUR 800 million solidarity fund, which will have to be extended to cover health crises.