Official speeches and statements - March 30, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic constitutes an unprecedented challenge for Europe and the whole world. It requires urgent, decisive, and comprehensive action at the EU, national, regional and local levels. We will do everything that is necessary to protect our citizens and overcome the crisis, while preserving our European values and way of life.
We recognize the burden these measures put on all our citizens and praise their sense of responsibility. We express our deepest sympathy with the victims of the pandemic and their families. We commend the dedication and tireless efforts of the healthcare professionals at the forefront of the outbreak and the contribution of those who provide essential services to the population.
We will cooperate with the international community and our external partners in combating the global pandemic.
We will continue to work along the five strands defined at our videoconferences on March 10 and 17, 2020 and do what is necessary to overcome the crisis.
Limiting the spread of the virus
1. All Member States have taken, based on advice from their national health authorities, decisive action to contain and slow down the spread of the virus. This effort is underpinned and supported by the guidelines of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the recommendations of the Commission COVID-19 Advisory Panel. Further guidelines will be issued as necessary, and we will continue to keep track of developments through the EU’s Integrated Political Crisis Response mechanism (IPCR), activated by the Croatian Presidency.
2. We have reinforced the control of our external borders by applying a coordinated temporary restriction of non-essential travel to the EU. We will evaluate the situation in due time and decide whether or not to prolong these measures.
3. Where temporary internal border controls have been introduced, we will ensure smooth border management for persons and goods and preserve the functioning of the Single Market, based on the Commission guidelines of 16 March 2020, in accordance with the Schengen Borders Code, and the Commission’s guidance on the implementation of "green lanes". We will urgently address, with the assistance of the Commission, the remaining problems concerning EU citizens blocked at internal EU borders and prevented from returning to their home countries and cross-border and seasonal workers who have to be able to continue essential activities while avoiding further spread of the virus. The same applies to the supply of goods and essential services, whether by land, sea or air. We invite the Commission to report on the situation before our next videoconference.
4. We will resolutely counter disinformation with transparent, timely and fact-based communication on what we are doing and thus reinforce the resilience of our societies. The Commission and the High Representative will be fully involved and will report on our joint efforts to the Council.
Providing medical equipment
5. We call on the Commission to continue and accelerate its efforts to help ensuring urgent and adequate provision of medical equipment throughout the EU, which is the most acute priority. The Member States should closely cooperate in this respect and provide the Commission with timely and reliable data.
6. The Commission will, in cooperation with the industry, provide an overview of stocks, production and imports and take action to improve the situation. It will actively pursue its joint procurement initiatives for personal protective equipment, ventilators and testing supplies. We ask the Commission to explore ways to speed up procedures in that respect. The Commission will increase as needed the initial budget for the strategic EU stockpile of medical equipment, including for intensive care, and vaccines and therapeutics.
7. The adoption of the decision on the authorization for export of personal protective equipment should lead to the full and effective lifting of all forms of internal bans or restrictions.
8. In the light of the WHO recommendations, it is a matter of urgency to increase testing capacities, and Member States will report to the Commission on the situation.
9. We will do everything possible to support research, coordinate efforts and seek synergies within the European scientific and research community so as to maximize the full potential of research across the EU. EUR 140 million have already been mobilized for 17 projects, including on vaccines. We will also work together with our key partners as set out in the recent G7 and G20 statements.
10. There is an urgent need to share scientific information and to collaborate both within the EU and worldwide on the challenge of developing a vaccine in the shortest possible time, and to make it available to all those in need, without any geographical barriers.We will increase and accelerate our support to European research teams and companies in this respect.
11. We welcome the initiatives taken by the Commission, the European Innovation Council and the European Investment Bank (EIB) Group to provide financial support for the clinical and public health response to the COVID-19 disease.
Tackling socio-economic consequences
12. We fully acknowledge the gravity of the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis and will do everything necessary to meet this challenge in a spirit of solidarity.
13. We support the resolute action taken by the European Central Bank to ensure supportive financing conditions in all euro area countries.
14. We take note of the progress made by the Eurogroup. At this stage, we invite the Eurogroup to present proposals to us within two weeks.These proposals should take into account the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 shock affecting all our countries and our response will be stepped up, as necessary, with further action in an inclusive way, in light of developments, in order to deliver a comprehensive response.
15. Our Member States have taken extensive action to support their economies and alleviate social and employment problems. We will use EU instruments to support their action to the extent necessary.
16. Member States need flexibility to do everything that is necessary. The Commission’s Temporary Framework for State aid measures to support the economy in the current COVID-19 outbreak constitutes a major step forward. The same applies to the unprecedented use of the general escape clause under the Stability and Growth Pact.
17. The Commission proposal for a Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative will provide EUR 37 billion of investment under cohesion policy to address the consequences of the crisis. With the proposed amendment to the EU Solidarity Fund, that Fund can also be used for public health emergency situations such as the COVID-19 outbreak. We look forward to the speedy adoption of these proposals. We welcome the Commission’s readiness to further increase flexibility and leverage in the use of EU instruments.
18. We also commend the EIB Group’s contribution in mobilizing resources for bank guarantees to and investment in European companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, including through the use of the EU budget. We invite Finance ministers to explore without delay possibilities to scale up the EIB Group’s coronavirus response overall.
19. We welcome the Commission guidelines on the screening of foreign direct investment and call on the Member States to take all necessary measures to protect strategic assets and technology from foreign investments that could threaten legitimate public policy objectives. This will contribute to the EU’s strategic autonomy, during the crisis and afterwards.
20. The COVID-19 pandemic affects people and societies all over the world and will have a long term impact on global economy and trade. The EU commits to international cooperation and multilateral solutions in tackling the pandemic and its consequences. It will do its utmost to assist countries and communities to fight the COVID-19 crisis. It will also do its utmost to strengthen the sustainability of global integrated value and supply chains to adapt them as necessary and to alleviate the negative socio-economic impact of the crisis.
Citizens stranded in third countries
21. We will further step up our efforts to ensure that EU citizens stranded in third countries who want to go home can do so, with the active support of the High Representative and the Commission. The Commission will put forward an addendum to the border management guidelines to facilitate transit arrangements for repatriated EU citizens.
22. A Consular Task Force has been set up by the EEAS. Close coordination is ensured with the Commission and with the Member States. The Emergency Response Coordination Center (ERCC) managed by the Commission assists the ongoing efforts for repatriations through the Union Civil Protection Mechanism, which should be provided with the necessary resources.
The urgency is presently on fighting the Coronavirus pandemic and its immediate consequences. We should however start to prepare the measures necessary to get back to a normal functioning of our societies and economies and to sustainable growth, integrating inter alia the green transition and the digital transformation, and drawing all lessons from the crisis. This will require a coordinated exit strategy, a comprehensive recovery plan and unprecedented investment. We invite the President of the Commission and the President of the European Council, in consultation with other institutions, especially the ECB, to start work on a Roadmap accompanied by an Action Plan to this end.
We must also draw all the lessons of the present crisis and start reflecting on the resilience of our societies when confronted with such events. In that respect, the time has come to put into place a more ambitious and wide-ranging crisis management system within the EU. We invite the Commission to make proposals in that respect.
We endorse the Council conclusions of March 25, 2020 on enlargement and stabilization and association process.
Earthquake in Croatia
We express our fullest sympathy with the Croatian Presidency and people, and stand ready to assist them in coping with the effects of the recent earthquake.
The situation at the EU’s external borders
We express our concerns over the situation at the Greek-Turkish border and our full solidarity with Greece, as well as with Bulgaria and Cyprus and other Member States, which are similarly affected, including in efforts to manage the EU’s external borders.
[Source of English text: European Council website]
Today, the ministers of defense and representatives from Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Mali, Niger, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom participated in the launching of the Task Force Takuba. Due to the epidemic of COVID-19, the meeting was held remotely.
Ms. Florence Parly introduced the political conclusions of the Pau Summit. She underlined the strong commitment of the G5 Joint Force partners, and detailed the French strategy in the Sahel region. The French Minister for the Armed Forces also focused on the engagement of the European countries in the region and seized the opportunity to thank the present nations for their valuable support. General Lecointre, French Chief of Defense Staff, completed the French overview on the Sahel security situation with an update on operation Barkhane.
General Ibrahima Dhirou Dembélé, Minister of Defense and Veterans of the Republic of Mali, and Mr. Issoufou Katambé, Minister of Defense of the Republic of Niger, shared their analysis of the local security situation. They both highlighted the necessity and urgency to fight against organized armed groups conducting terrorist actions in the Liptako-Gourma region, and in particular, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (IS-GS) and the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM). They reaffirm the necessity to disarm all the fighters linked to the Signatory Armed Groups (SAG).
Considering the security situation in Mali and more broadly in the Sahel, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom agreed on setting up a task force, at the request of the Malian President, His Excellency Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, and Nigerien President, His Excellency Mahamadou Issoufou, to assist the Malian Armed Forces in countering terrorist groups and to complement the current efforts made by operation Barkhane and the G5 Sahel Joint Force. All military engagements in the Sahel and Takuba in particular, are part of a wider, more comprehensive approach to promote security and stability in the region. Takuba will therefore be part of the counter-terrorism pillar of the "Coalition for the Sahel", the broader coordinating framework recently announced in Pau. Ultimately, the ministers recognized that the threat of terrorism in the Sahel cannot be countered by military means alone.
The Takuba task force will be placed under Operation Barkhane’s command and operate in the Liptako region. It will be mainly composed of European Special Operations Forces and supported by key enablers providing a high level of autonomy. It will advise, assist and accompany Malian Armed Forces, in coordination with G5 Sahel partners, the UN mission (MINUSMA) and EU missions (EUTM Mali, EUCAP Mali and EUCAP Niger), with a robust legal basis in compliance with international law. Participants welcomed the contributions already approved by Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, the Netherlands and Portugal, as well as the planned contribution by Sweden (pending parliamentary approval) and called for additional commitments as part of this common European effort aiming at increasing international security.
Task Force Takuba is planned to have an initial operational capability (IOC) by the summer of 2020 and expected to become operational (FOC) by early 2021. Task Force Takuba is envisaged to act swiftly and to adapt to the evolving threat represented by terrorist groups and will play a key role in rapidly empowering local armed forces.
The ministers of defense have expressed their solidarity with the Chadian population and defense forces, after the terrorist attack on the island of Boma.
[Source of English text: French Ministry for the Armed Forces]
I first want to thank Mr. Lowcock and Mr. Pedersen for their presentations and, above all, for their tireless efforts.
It is crucial that the Security Council continues to exchange regularly on the situation in Syria.
The top priority is the implementation of an immediate and sustainable nationwide ceasefire to facilitate the efforts to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
We support the call of the Secretary-General and of his Special Envoy in this regard. It is urgent that it be implemented. We call on all parties to work actively in this direction. The United Nations have to remain at the forefront of these efforts, in accordance with the resolution 2254.
The risk of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Syria is extremely worrying, notably in the North West and in the North East. A nationwide ceasefire is the only way to facilitate prevention and response actions to the COVID-19. This is all the more necessary as the implementation of the Russian-Turkish agreement of March 5 on Idlib remains fragile and uncertain.
We also fully support the call of the Special Envoy for large scale releases of detainees and abductees, especially political prisoners, as well as immediate access of relevant humanitarian organizations to detention facilities.
We call on all parties, in particular the Syrian regime, to ensure a safe and unhindered humanitarian access to all the people in need.
The UN agencies and their partners are scaling up their efforts to respond to the humanitarian needs of the population and to the COVID crisis. These efforts need to be supported and enhanced.
In this context, the crossborder mechanism has never been so relevant in the North West. UNICEF and WFP were very clear after their visit in Syria: there is no alternative to the crossborder mechanism. The scale-up of the humanitarian delivery through the two crossing points must continue. France remains determined to preserve that life-saving mechanism. We have committed €25M for 2020 to the humanitarian response to the North West, including €3M for the COVID response.
In the North East, we deplore that the recent announcement of the regime regarding the crossline delivery of medical items has not materialized. The attempts of the regime to dictate the conditions for the delivery of aid are unacceptable and in blatant violation of humanitarian principles. It is essential that the WHO convoy in Damascus can deliver aid to all the people in need in the North East.
Urgent steps need to be taken to ensure adequate medical care and protective measures in all places of detention.
It is urgent to restart the political process and to broaden its scope to all the elements of UNSCR 2254.
We support the attempts of the Special Envoy in order to find an agreement between the parties to resume the meetings of the constitutional committee, and we welcome today’s announcement. However, it is clear that the Syrian regime is unwilling to engage in a credible political process or to engage at all, as the last five months have sufficiently demonstrated.
In this context, we call on Geir Pedersen to make it clear to the Security Council when he deems he is no longer able to continue his efforts on the constitutional committee. We also urge him to work on all aspects of resolution 2254, as the political process cannot be reduced to constitutional discussions. The ceasefire is one of these aspects, as are the elections and the conditions to hold a transparent and free ballot. The temporary lull obtained in the North West must be used for this purpose.
In conclusion, I reiterate my call on Russia to convince the regime to abide by a national ceasefire in the context of the COVID outbreak. Our collective cooperation is more needed than never and we need to tackle the crisis together, despite our disagreements on the Syrian war. Thank you.