Moving on from COVID-19 – exit strategy discussions across Europe
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.
The number of confirmed cases continues to decrease in Italy, and the country has more than 21, 000 deaths and 162,000 confirmed cases. Prime Minister Conte announced on 10 April that the lockdown will remain in place until 3 May, although the government has agreed to partially re-open some parts of the economy. Shops such as bookshops, stationery stores and children’s clothes shops can reopen from 14 April. The government has also decided to extend the list of productive activities to include the use of forested areas and forestry, computer manufacturing, gardening, hydraulic works, and wholesale trade in paper and cardboard. People reopening businesses must follow strict rules to maintain social distancing, clean twice per day, provide hand disinfection systems, and provide face masks in closed spaces. Some regions decided to derogate from this government decision. For example, in Lombardy and Piedmont the reopening of bookshops and stationery stores has not been allowed yet. Several scientific experts developed a proposal containing some guidelines on how to ‘reopen’ activities in the future while safely managing the transition from pandemic to endemic. The document suggests the creation of a flexible monitoring and response structure with capacity and resources to perform a very high number of both virological and serological tests and an enhanced Central Surveillance Structure at the National Health Institute (ISS).
On 14 April, the UK had recorded 93,873 cases and 12,107 deaths. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics suggest that the total number of deaths from COVID-19 up to 3 April was 15% higher than government statistics show. Prime Minister Boris Jonson, who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, came out of hospital on 12 April, while First Secretary Dominic Raab continues to deputise and is expected to extend lockdown measures through early May. Labour leader Keir Starmer supports an extension but has pushed the government to publish its exit strategy ahead of Parliament’s return from Easter recess on 21 April. Restrictions are likely to be gradually lifted by age, vulnerability or sector, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak is eager for some people to return to work to mitigate the economic downturn. Last week, Sunak pledged more than £14 billion for public services including local authorities, as thousands are unable to pay council taxes. Furthermore, to fight the spread of COVID-19, the Government has launched a plan to deliver personal protective equipment (PPE) to social care settings, building on its plan to deliver PPE to clinical settings and to support a domestic PPE industry to ensure future supply.
On 14 April, head of the Robert-Koch Institute Lothar Wieler explained that two crucial milestones in the fight against COVID-19 have been reached: the influenza season has not exacerbated the current COVID-19 developments, and the amount of respiratory equipment among hospitals in Germany has been significantly increased. Tensions have flared around the national exit strategy from COVID-19 measures. The Federal Government is expected to announce the extension of the current measures until 3 May, and Federal Minister of Education and Research, Anja Karliczek, underlined the importance of the harmonisation of exit measures between the federal states, though the prime ministers of North Rhine Westphalia and Bavaria have already announced their states’ first approaches. On 13 April, the independent German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina published a scientific exit strategy proposal outlining three requirements for loosening current measures: the numbers of new infections must be stabilised, respiratory and protective capacity in the health sector must be increased, and known precautionary measures must be widely respected.
On non-COVID-19 news, four men were arrested on 15 April for planning terror attacks in Germany in the name of the Islamic state. The terror cell aimed to attack US military facilities in Germany, as well as individuals. The extraordinary party conference of the Christian Democrats scheduled for 25 April will most likely be postponed. A new party chair must be elected after the current party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced her resignation. Given this postponement, and in view of the regularly scheduled party conference in December, an election at that time is likely. The candidates Armin Laschet (supported by Health Minister Jens Spahn), Friedrich Merz, as well as Norbert Röttgen are up for the election.
On 9 April the Spanish Congress approved, as expected, a second extension of the state of emergency due to the COVID-19 crisis. The decree foresees the same lockdown conditions as present until 26 April – movement will be limited to undertaking essential activities such as doing groceries, all establishments will be closed except for providers of basic services, and land border controls restored. A third extension until 10 May appears likely, although confinement measures might be lifted gradually during this period. Teresa Ribera, Vice-president for Green Transition, coordinates the task force responsible for designing the transition towards a softer lockdown. The task force includes key ministries such as the Ministry of Health, Foreign Affairs and Social Services and experts from the Scientific Committee who have been giving advice to the government on the management of the crisis. Non-essential workers whose tasks cannot be undertaken remotely, mostly in the industrial sector, have resumed their activities after a two-week break during the Easter period. As a result, transport services have increased as to cover transportation needs and ensure adequate social distancing in public transports. The government has distributed 10 million face masks for commuters to wear when using public transport. Although the Ministry of Health has not made it compulsory, it strongly encourages commuters to wear them.
The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) Party wants to proceed with the presidential election scheduled for 10 May, though other parties oppose the idea. The proposal submitted by PiS to have a postal vote was approved by the Sejm, Poland’s Parliament’s lower house, and has been submitted to the Senate. This was addressed by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), and co-rapporteurs on the functioning of democratic institutions in Poland have expressed concerns that these changes to the Electoral Code are controversial, stating that this procedure does not comply with European standards. In further controversy, the national parliament resumes discussions on proposals to tighten abortion laws and to restrict children’s access to sexual education. Poland already has one of the strictest abortion legislations in Europe, and previous attempts to further tighten the law were abandoned after mass protests in 2018 and 2019. The current proposal removes the legal possibility of terminating pregnancy in the cases of severe or fatal foetus anomaly. The bill would result in virtually outlawing abortion and seriously affecting rights and safety of women in the country. The bill on children’s right to sexual education amends Poland’s criminal law to criminalise the teaching or promotion of sexual education to children under the age of 18 in school settings. The Commissioner for Human Rights in the Council of Europe urged Poland’s Parliament to reject both bills amid concerns around the infringement of children’s rights to a comprehensive, appropriate and evidence-based education.
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.