Europe returns to a “new normal”

by RPP
Weekly European political updates

Europe is a colourful continent in terms of policies and outcomes. It is essential to stay updated on how these policies may impact your work to build better regulatory frameworks, enhance your message and enhance communication with stakeholders. 

Here you can find a summary of the major European political updates of this week.    


United Kingdom

On 11 May, the Government published its three-stage plan for gradually easing lockdown measures over the coming months.  People are now able to take unlimited daily exercise and can meet friends outside, provided they adhere to social distancing measures. Business sectors where social distancing is relatively easy to adhere to, such as operating on construction sites, are being encouraged to reopen. The Government has earmarked 1 June as the earliest return date for schoolchildren aged 4-6 and 10-11, while the return of other age groups will be staggered in the following months. The Scottish and Welsh first ministers opted for more stringent lockdown measures to persist over the next three weeks, echoing trade unions in criticising the Government’s ambition to quickly reopen the economy. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has extended the Government’s Job Retention Scheme, which allows companies to suspend workers while the Government pays 80% of their wage up to £2500 a month, through to the end of October. Sunak has indicated support measures will likely be eased in mid-August to encourage people to return to work amid reports the economy has already contracted by 2% in the first three months of this year.    


On 11 May, France initiated the first step of its exit strategy. From then until 2 June, schools will reopen with sanitary measures, welcoming priority students; and shops will reopen while bars and restaurants will remain closed. Wearing masks will become mandatory in public transportation. Protective masks are now sold in supermarkets, pharmacies, and journeys of less than 100km are permitted. Regarding research of COVID-19, the European Discovery clinical trial was launched in March 2020 to test four potential COVID-19 treatments on 3,200 total patients across seven European countries. The French government based almost exclusively its speeches on treatments on this trial, arguing that only these results will lead to a national policy on treatment that will be used to treat the infection. The results publication date was announced on 9 April. By 13 May, however, no result had been published. Moreover, while the trial was initially intended to involve 3,200 participants across seven countries, only 740 effectively participated to the trial, including 739 French patients. The clinical trial, already qualified as a failure, became a new argument in the massive oppositions to the government for its mismanagement of the crisis.


Prime Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate, Malu Dreyer, has announced a gradual exit strategy. Capacity to loosen confinement measures is decentralised, and local and federal authorities’ decisions depend on a stabilisation indicator. The stabilisation rate is 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the Robert-Koch Institute. From 15 June, Austria is expected to re-open its borders to Germany, and from 15 May crossing the German Austrian border shall be simplified. Regarding tracking of the virus, the German Telekom and the software company SAP published the first concept of a COVID-19 tracing app on the platform Github. This follows critique on data privacy issues, to ensure the ‘greatest transparency possible’. The app aims to inform users if they have been in close contact with people who tested positive for COVID-19. In the political landscape, after a member of the CDU Economic Council, Peter Schmidt, appeared as organizer of an anti-COVID-19 measures demonstration at which Liberal Thomas Kemmerich gave a speech, both the Christian Democrats and the Liberals came under strong criticism, especially because many right-wing extremists were present at the demonstration. In reaction to his appearance at the demonstration, FDP chairman Christian Lindner distanced himself from Kemmerich, and the CDU state association of Thuringia called on him to make a statement. The CDU Economic Council is not an official part of the CDU, but is often visited by high-ranking party members. Kemmerich was considered a critical figure of the Liberal party when elected Thuringia's Minister President in February 2020 with the votes of the right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). He resigned after less than a day following strong criticism and political pressure from the Federal level.     


As of 11 May, half of the Spanish population started phase 1 of the COVID-19 exit strategy, during which containment measures are gradually lifted. Establishments of up to 400 square metres can reopen with a third of their total capacity; terraces in bars and restaurants with 50% of their capacity, and up to 10 customers per table; museums with 33% of their total capacity, and shows can take place with fewer than 30 people; hotels can reopen except for common spaces; and places of worship with 33% of their capacity. Social services such as care for people with disabilities, early care, occupational and psychosocial therapies may gradually resume prioritising the most vulnerable. Home care and care for elderly people not living in nursing homes will also be restored. However, several regions such as Madrid, Catalonia, Andalusia, Valencia, Castilla La Mancha and Castilla León did not make it to phase 1 and are still in phase 0. Transition to phases is decided by the Ministry of Health upon set criteria on the health system preparedness to move forward. This decision has raised political tensions between the national and the regional governments. As a result, President Pedro Sánchez is seeking to gather enough political support to table a fifth extension of the state of emergency for an additional month, up until 24 June, providing a less centralised de-escalation process. 


On 12 May, the number of infected people was lower than the number of recovered for the first time since March. Deconfinement measures have started to take place since 4 May, with some stores and businesses reopening with strict measures. Bars and restaurants will be able to reopen from 18 May, and schools will progressively reopen. 1 June will see more widespread measures to return to the new normal provided there is no resurgence in the number of cases. The third and last report of the state of emergency says the health crisis is now a social crisis; the report emphasises the levels of unemployment and the financial situation. On 13 May the conference of leaders will debate measures to allow the national parliament to resume “almost normal” activities. Measures being debated include dividing deputies in several different rooms, electronic votes, among many others. 


You can find more information on European news in our EU national elections heatmap, where we provide an overarching perspective with key political insight for individual countries. Make sure to check it here


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