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EU response to COVID-19 must be factored into Government strategy, says European Scrutiny Committee

1 April 2020

The European Scrutiny Committee (ESC) today publishes an urgent report assessing the European Union's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and its implications for the UK.

The rapid development of the crisis has seen a succession of policies and laws agreed by the EU, in addition to steps taken by individual Member States.

The European Scrutiny Committee draws attention to important policy decisions being taken rapidly in Brussels without any formal UK input, but which will nevertheless have important implications for the UK as the Government formulates its response to the pandemic.

The report covers three principal areas:

Movement of people and goods

The report details the growing importance of the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism and Early Warning & Response System, neither of which were mentioned in the Government’s future relationship negotiating objectives. The Committee calls for an updated cost/benefit analysis of UK participation beyond the end of the transition period, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic; and requests urgent clarity on what type of health security cooperation the Government hopes to agree with the EU.

Although the Commission’s guidelines on border management do not impose any legal obligations, the Committee presses the Government on whether it intends to observe them in areas such as health screening at borders. It also urges the Government to produce its view on their implications for supply chains for essential goods.

The decision taken by EU and Schengen States to restrict entry temporarily involves action at national level and voluntary coordination by the participating countries. The Committee asks the Government whether it plans to introduce similar measures, and how it is coordinating with EU countries on border issues – particularly Ireland.

On procuring essential medical supplies, the report outlines EU steps to limit exports and jointly procure protective equipment and testing kits. The Committee asks the Government to detail how these will affect UK businesses and whether it intends to participate in joint or several procurement, given the urgent and growing need to secure equipment for frontline NHS personnel.

Economic support measures

The Committee notes that while neither the Government nor the EU are currently planning to relax existing banking regulations and supervisory frameworks, the European Commission has issued a ‘Temporary Framework’ for exceptional State Aid measures available to Member States. The Committee asks the Government for its position on the guidance, and whether it was consulted prior to publication.


Financial assistance from the EU budget

Although individual Member States are taking the lead on fiscal responses to the crisis, the European Commission has proposed some support measures funded by the EU’s budget, such as the reallocation of €555 million in structural funds to support COVID-19 related projects. The UK is eligible to receive EU structural funds until the end of 2020, and currently has €2.4 billion unallocated. The Committee asks the Government whether it will make use of the €555 million available, and what plans it has for the unallocated €2.4 billion. It also asks if the Government intends to enhance its response to COVID-19 by applying to the EU Solidarity Fund or Globalisation Adjustment Fund.

Chair's comments

Launching the report, ESC chair Sir William Cash said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis unprecedented in nature and scope, and has triggered similarly unprecedented responses globally, including from the EU.

“In the face of such a complex and fast-moving threat, it is vital that the Government is crystal clear in its explanation which the ESC has called for as to the domestic and international resources and policy tools at its disposal and that is fully transparent about their use. 

“Our report is intended to assist the Government in this critical task and to inform the wider public. It considers the policy and legal measures agreed by the EU in response to the COVID-19 crisis, highlighting their actual or potential implications for the UK during the transition period.”

Further information

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