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The European Union’s common response to the coronavirus epidemic

The European Union has adopted at the beginning of March a common response to the outbreak of COVID-19. To do so, multiple investments have been made towards health and economy.

Intra-Community program mobilized to support SMEs and finance research and innovation

As a first step, the European Union deployed the first part of its common response through its existing intra-Community cooperation program. The European Commission accelerated and encouraged research on COVID-19 by mobilizing 45 million euros through Horizon 2020 to fund the EU’s research and innovation program. Under this program the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) call for accelerated research proposals in response to the COVID-19 epidemic was published on 3 March 2020. 18 research projects on vaccines and treatments are currently being funded by the IMI. Then, the Commission announced on 13 March that it will make 1 billion euros available from the EU budget as a guarantee to the European Investment Fund through its existing COSME and Innovfin programs. This should enable the European Investment Fund, with the support of the EU’s supplementary guarantee, to provide an incentive for banks to provide liquidity to SMEs and mid-caps companies.


The increased flexibility of the State aid rules to allow the use of the remaining Structural Funds budgets

Secondly, the European Structural Investment Funds are being mobilized to deal with the crisis. The Commission announced on 13 March that, because Member States still have €28 billions of structural funds from their 2014-2020 national envelopes not yet allocated to projects, they will be able to use the additional flexibility of the state aid rules to direct the use of these funds towards tackling the crisis. Indeed, European Commissioners adopted on 20 March a temporary framework to allow Member States to use all the flexibility provided by state aid rules to support the economy in the context of the COVID-19 epidemic. Under this temporary framework farmers can benefit from a maximum aid of €100,000 per farm and food processing, and marketing companies can benefit from a maximum aid of €800,000, which can be complemented by de minimis aid.


The multiplication of legislative measures and investment programs in favor of economy and health

All major European institutions have adopted financial and legislative measures to contain the crisis. First of all, the European Investment Bank Group announced on 16 March that it would rapidly mobilize up to 40 billion euros to combat the crisis caused by COVID-19. The EIBG also called on the Member States to put in place an additional guarantee for support to SMEs and medium-sized enterprises from the EIB Group and national promotional banks. The European Central Bank followed on 18 March by announcing a 750 billion euros Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program (PEPP), which will run until the end of 2020 and include all asset classes eligible under the existing Asset Purchase Program (APP). Finally, the EU’s decision-making bodies have stepped up legislative action, firstly by adopting three emergency proposals in an extraordinary session of the European Parliament on 26 March. These three emergency measures include the Corona Response investment initiative. This measure aims to channel 37 billion euros of EU funds as soon as possible to the citizens, regions and countries most affected by the pandemic. These funds will be targeted to health systems, SMEs, labour markets and other vulnerable sectors of the economy. The second measure extends the EU Solidarity Fund to cover public health emergencies. This measure will provide 800 million euros available for European countries in 2020. Eligible operations under the Fund will be extended to include support in the event of a major public health emergency, including medical assistance, as well as measures to prevent, monitor or control the spread of diseases. Finally, the EU Council adopted on 30 March two legislative acts to rapidly release funds from the EU budget to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. One of these acts amends the rules of the structural and investment funds, while the second extends the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund.


European initiatives through calls for proposals and existing European projects 

European initiatives and calls for projects published before the crisis also make it possible to support the European response. One example is the EU-funded Exscalate4CoV project’s call for collaboration in the search for potential medicines. It thus provides access to facilities for the research of compounds against the new coronavirus. E4C invites organizations to submit proposals for screening their compounds for efficacy profiling on the E4C Biology Platforms. A second European project, EU-Citizen.Science, funded by the Science with and for Society program, has also distinguished itself by bringing together a large number of initiatives to enable citizens to contribute directly to research by using, for example, applications to download data on the spread of virus symptoms. Finally, one call in particular is likely to fund initiatives to tackle COVID-19 since the Commission has received no less than 4 000 applications in a call for projects under the European Innovation Council (EIC) Acceleration Pilot Program – more than double the usual amount. This upsurge is partly due to the call for ideas to contribute to the fight against the coronavirus epidemic; more than 1000 start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises with innovations related to the prevention of the impact and spread of the coronavirus have responded.


Funding opportunities for research and innovation in the fight against COVID-19

Several calls for proposals were published to develop treatments and vaccines, while current calls also enable to fund projects related to the COVID-19:

  • EIT Health Headstart – Development of innovative healthcare products and services for Covid-19 solutions (open until 14 April 2020): provides funding for digital health start-ups with valuable COVID-19 solutions, up to 50,000 euros to support the development of innovative healthcare products and services.
  • H2020-SC1-PHE-CORONAVIRUS-2020 – Advancing knowledge for the clinical and public health response to the 2019-nCoV epidemic (closed on 12 February 2020): funding for projects aiming to advance the knowledge on 2019-nCoV and its impact on infected persons, with the aim of contributing to an efficient patient management and/or public health preparedness and response.
  • H2020-JTI-IMI2-2020-21-single-stage – Development of therapeutics and diagnostics combatting coronavirus infections (closed on 31 March 2020): funding for projects aiming to advance the knowledge specifically on COVID-19 and more widely on the coronavirus family in order to contribute to an efficient patient management and/or public health preparedness and response to current and future outbreaks of coronavirus infection.
  • H2020-EIC-SMEInst-2018-2020 – EIC Accelerator pilot –SME Instrument (open until 7 October 2020):provides support for innovative projects from for-profit SMEs, including young companies and start-ups, from any sector up to 2.5 million euros.
  • H2020-SC1-BHC-2018-2020 – Addressing low vaccine uptake (open until 4 June 2020): funding for projects aiming to increase understanding of the determinants of low vaccine uptake in specific contexts located in the EU and/or Associated Countries (AC). Proposals should also develop strategies to increase vaccination rates of essential vaccines within these contexts.


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