News from the Capitals #6
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.
On 9 March Prime Minister Conte adopted a decree ordering the isolation of the entire country until 3 April due to the spread of coronavirus. These extreme measures follow the lockdown of the Lombardy region and other provinces in the neighbouring regions. It was observed that many people were fleeing from the new ‘red zones’. In light of the increasing number of cases and deaths, the emergency measures have therefore been extended to the entire country.
The spread of the virus (over ten thousand cases) and the socially severe measures to contain it, are putting strain on the National Health Service (NHS) and the country’s entire economy. For this reason, on 9 March the Government decided to allocate €845 million for 2020 (of which €660 million for healthcare professionals and €185 million for the purchase of intensive care equipment) with plans to adopt other economic measures to support companies and workers.
On 9 March, the German Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn met with officials from the Robert Koch Institute (the federal public health body) and Charité Berlin (a leading Berlin medical research university) to discuss the latest developments and response to COVID-19. In the meeting, the Health Minister recommended the cancellation of events with more than 1000 participants, which may affect the CDU party conference in April, where a new party leader is planned to be chosen. Mr. Spahn also announced a consultation on medicines shortages at EU level and explained that reforms of EU competition regulations could enhance the production of specific substances in Europe.
As a consequence of the current pandemic, blood donations are decreasing in Germany with blood reserves running short. Parliament is debating whether the prohibition on homosexual people donating blood should be lifted in light of the shortages. Elsewhere, the German stock exchange plunged by 8%, which is the biggest daily loss in nearly 18 years. The German Economic Institute (Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft) called on German policy makers to take measures to maintain economic stability. Such as the stabilisation of the health system, the liquidity of companies, the stabilisation of financial markets, tax deferrals for companies (particularly small-and medium-sized) as well as the stabilisation of employment rates.
The French municipal election’s first ballots are scheduled for 15 March. Special measures were published by the Government to limit the spread of coronavirus on this day, such as voters bringing their own pens, the availability of hydroalcoholic gels in every polling station, and markings on the floor to help people to keep appropriate distances. Despite those measures, a recent survey suggests that 28% of French citizens may not vote to avoid an infection.
Recent reports have revealed that coronavirus has spread to parliament, with 5 Members of Parliament and 2 employees reported as infected. Parliament has closed for two weeks due to the municipal elections, and special measures have been taken, such as cancellation of gatherings and meetings within the national assembly. Considering the situation, most trade unions opposed to the pension reform called for a break in the parliamentary process. Unions have also accused the Government of attempting to capitalise on the attention directed to the pandemic to avoid scrutiny of the proposed pension reforms.
During a joint press conference given by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Greek Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Wien, the Austrian leader praised the efforts by the Greek Government to protect the European border. Shortly before the press conference, a report in the New York Times newspaper revealed the existence of a secret Greek centre used to deport arriving asylum seekers without due process, in what a former UN special rapporteur on migrant human rights has described as a "black site". Those detained are said to be kept in secret and without access to legal recourse. According to the report, the Greek Government is detaining migrants at a secret extrajudicial location before expelling them to Turkey without due process, one of several hard-line measures taken to seal the borders to Europe that experts say violate international law.
On the evening of 10 March, Health Minister Nadine Dorries confirmed that she had tested positive for COVID-19 and is self-isolating. The Minister had signed a statutory instrument on Friday 6 March which designated coronavirus as a ‘notifiable disease’ having likely already being infected. The announcement is particularly concerning for 10 Downing Street and the Parliamentary authorities who will need to decide whether to close the UK Parliament to prevent further transmission. Reports that other Ministers and Member of Parliament has also self-isolated will add further pressure to make a decision within the coming days.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak made his first major statement as he announced the UK Budget this week. The Chancellor promised “historic” investment in roads, railways, broadband and scientific research. Sunak announced a £12 billion plan to provide support for public services, individuals and businesses, whose finances are affected by COVID-19. Notably, the NHS will receive £6 billion of funding, but there was not mention of social care. The Government seeks to end the decade of Conservative austerity by promising to boost spending by around £600 billion on infrastructure and innovation. These increases in public spending will be funded through borrowing, which is in stark contrast to the Conservative’s traditionally restrained fiscal policy.
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.