News from the Capitals #7
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.
In Italy, the total number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase and the country remains the hardest hit European country. An emergency decree was approved on 17 March allocating 25 billion euros to supporting the Italian economy, notably targeted towards self-employed workers, families and businesses. Measures include direct payments for self-employed, limiting the possibility of terminating workers’ contracts, support for childcare, possible suspensions of rents and mortgages, as well as the suspension of tax and insurance payments. The decree also allocates 3.5 billion euros to the health system, towards ventilation systems, protective gear and the recruitment of new medical staff. The investments are also to stimulate private investments, and together with public funds the aim is to leverage about 340 billion euros on the long term.
Italy’s government also argued in favour of taking extraordinary measures in issuing joint EU debt bonds, which would entail mutualising debt at EU level, in supporting Member States’ economies. Countries such as Germany have previously argued against common Eurobonds, explaining that it is up to the individual Member Wtate to keep finances in order, and that some Member States should not be paying for others. Another proposed idea includes resorting to the European Stability Mechanism, a bailout fund for the Eurozone, which was established following the financial crisis to safeguard and support members of the Eurozone in financial difficulties. Normally reserved for extraordinary occasions, it remains to be seen if there is a common agreement among Eurozone countries on using the fund.
On 17 March, the Robert Koch Institute assessed the COVID-19 situation in Germany to be a high public health risk. On 16 March, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced additional protective measures. Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas, announced to repatrition efforts for all German citizens who are currently abroad. The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a global travel warning but exemptions are made for those who commute between the borders, and the movement of goods remains stable.
On 13 March, Federal Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz and Federal Minister of Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier announced a so-called “Bazooka” strategy including a three-step financial plan. Firstly, short-term financial measures will be established. Secondly, the extension and flexibility of financial grants will be enhanced. Thirdly, in a case of severe economic issues, due to the interruption of global supply chains, the German Federal government aims to create economic stimulus package to prevent the halt of large-scale production. This is in line with the announcement made by Chancellor Angela Merkel after a meeting with German trade associations as she explained that even the German “black zero” financial policy could be softened. She said that the German government will take all measures necessary to stabilise the financial as well as economic market.
On 17 March, Angela Merkel along with French Preisodent Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minisgter Boris Johnson and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held a conference on the situation of refugees currently stuck in a disastrous humanitarian situation at the Greek-Turkish border. After the conference, Chancellor Merkel explained that she agreed to increase the EU funds to support Syrian refugees in Turkey. Moreover, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron expressed commitment to the EU-Turkey refugee pact.
Agnès Buzyn, the last Health Minister renounced her Ministry in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, in order to enter into the Paris municipal campaign. As a result, Olivier Véran was appointed Health Minister. The municipal elections went ahead as planned during the pandemic. The first ballot took place on 15 March where sanitary measures were put in place, however, many citizens decided not to vote with a turnout of just 45%, 20% lower than the last election. Regardless, 30 000 municipalities out of 35 000 elected their mayor at the first ballot by reaching a majority of vote. After the lastest security measures implemented by the government, the second ballot, which was scheduled for 22 March will now be postponed. The confinement measures have proven difficult for the organisation of this ballot. The Prime Minister has proposed the next ballot to be held on 21 June, but there has so far been no confirmation.
The French Parliament is theoretically closed because of the confinement measures. However, the President’s announcements about the deferral of the municipal elections and the implementation of a financial plan to support companies must be adopted by the Parliament to be effective. As a result, Parliament will re-open on Thursday 18 March and Friday 19 March to vote on a delegation of power to the government. A reduced number of MPs are called to vote, and sanitary measures of distancing between the MPs will be respected. This vote will enable the government to pass decrees during the epidemy, concerning the municipal elections and the financial plan.
Following the decision taken on 17 March by the EU, Greece closed its borders to non-EU citizens from 6:00 on 18 March. Despite strong recommendations from Greek scientists on a 14-day quarantine, the only measure taken at present is the shutdown of some stores. On Tuesday 17, the Greek Ministry of Migration announced a series of new emergency measures to contain a potential coronavirus outbreak inside the country’s reception and identification centers, as well as its refugee and migrant camps. All new arrivals of refugees or migrants in the country will be submitted to mandatory checks on their health, while those inside the camps will receive two daily updates and instructions. Visits by individuals, NGOs and international organisations and entities have been suspended for at least fourteen days. The entrance into the camps is only permitted to those who are authorised to work inside the camps. All informal educational activities and all indoor activities offered to the refugees and migrants (including library sessions or sports) are also suspended. According to the new Ministry directive, special additional medical facilities will be established inside the camps.
Belgium now has a government of full exercise ending the long period of government in current affairs. This agreement was made possible thanks to the support of 10 parties which supported the Government of Sophie Wilmès in order to improve the response to the pandemic COVID-19. It will then be for the deputies of the Federal Parliament to ratify the agreement between ten parties. The parties that support the Wilmès government will not have ministerial positions. The new emergency government will therefore still be made up of the three current parties: Open Vld, MR, CD&V.
Sophie Wilmès has the obligation to focus on the coronavirus crisis, budgetary consequences and socio-economic measures. It is therefore an emergency government with a limited program for a limited period. Indeed, the duration will be three months with a possible extension of three months after evaluation.
The National Security Council has decided to confine the Belgian population from today at noon until April 5 in the hope of reducing the Covid-19 pandemic. It is requested to limit travel to the essentials (health, food, bank, pharmacy, post office, gas, helping people in need). Companies must organize a maximum of telework for all the functions for which it is possible, without exception. This April 5, the situation will be assessed.
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.