EU has almost €4tr of funding ‘firepower’to deal with Covid-19 fallout.

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Europe has almost €4 trillion euro of funding “firepower” to deal with the fallout of Covid-19, an Oireachtas committee has heard. Gerard Kiely, head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland, said almost a quarter of the EU’s GDP has been allocated to deal with economic and medical issues created by the pandemic. Mr Kiely said: “If you add up everything that has been done at EU and member state level in relation to Covid — between state aid, monetary easing, the funds, the EU budget — there’s a firepower of something of the order of €3.5 trillion to €4 trillion on the table in relation to dealing with Covid-19, dealing with the economic and medical fallout from Covid.

“Between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of the EU’s Gross Domestic Product(GDP)has been put on the table in terms of firepower and most of that money is still a promise, it hasn’t actually gone into the system. It will be going into the system in the future which will inevitably have a big impact.” Mr Kiely was speaking by video-link on Wednesday at the joint EU affairs committee which was examining the bloc’s response to Covid-19.

It comes as a senior medic at the World Health Organisation warned on Tuesday that European governments are “well behind” in the fight against coronavirus and the continent is becoming an epicentre for the disease.

Vaccine

Asked about recent reports suggesting EU officials had warned it could be 2022 before a Covid-19 vaccine is available to all in the bloc, Mr Kiely said it is “not a question of the commission knowing something” and that it is “just the reality”. He added: “If the vaccines — and there are very positive signs at the moment — are given the all clear in the next weeks, it is going to take a long time to get up to speed in terms of getting up to speed in producing the billions of doses that are needed.” He said it is “just a statement of fact” that it could be 2022 before everyone in Europe may have access to a vaccine. “I don’t think anyone is disrupting the fact that, if and when, a vaccine is available, it is going to be coming piecemeal,” he said.

“If a vaccine is given the all clear in the next weeks it is going to take a long time to get up to speed in terms of producing the hundreds, the billions of doses that are needed,” he told the committee.

The commission had invested hundreds of millions of euro “with a number of companies that are showing promise in terms of vaccine development,” he said.

“Member states are going to have to decide who are the priority;frontline workers, people with underlying problems,” to receive the vaccine first, he said.

Mr Kiely told TDs and senators the European Commission had invested hundreds of millions of euro with a number of companies developing vaccines to ensure the availability of almost 800 million doses for EU citizens. The committee heard the Commission has concluded agreements on behalf of all EU member states with AstraZeneca for the purchase of 300 million doses of the vaccine, with an option to purchase 100 million more;Sanofi-GSK for the purchase of 300 million doses;Johnson and Johnson for the initial purchase of 200 million doses, and could further purchase up to an additional 200 million vaccine doses. Mr Kiely said the commission is also involved in what he described as “exploratory talks” with CureVac, with Moderna, and with BioNTech-Pfizer for millions more doses.

Response ‘faltered at times’

Noelle O’Connell, chief executive of European Movement Ireland, said the EU’s response to the pandemic had “faltered at times.”

The perceived “lack of solidarity” shown to Italy during the early months of the crisis when its hospital system was overwhelmed, had resulted in a drop in support for the EU in opinion polls, she said.

Polls commissioned by the European Parliament in April and June showed 39 per cent of people were satisfied that member states had shown enough solidarity with each other in tackling the coronavirus.

Irish people had the highest levels of satisfaction with EU solidarity at 64 per cent, with Luxembourg the lowest at 19 per cent, she said.

Ms O’Connell likened the response from Brussels to Covid-19 to that of a “marathon runner,” rather than a sprinter.

The institutions of the EU had a tendency to try and tailor how it responded to crises “to its way of working, rather than adapting to the crisis at hand,” she told the committee.

The new “traffic light” system to allow travel between European countries introduced recently, would replace a previous “confusing patchwork” of rules that varied between countries, Ms O’Connell said.

Labour TD Brendan Howlin said cross-Border co-operation, where some countries assisted others whose healthcare systems were under intense strain, was being done on an “ad hoc” basis.

There was a need for a more structured EU-level approach, rather than the situation at present where it was down to individual member states to “act as good neighbours,” he said.

The Government is preparing for hospitals in the Republic to potentially be required to help ease the pressure on the healthcare system in Northern Ireland, by taking patients who required critical care.–Additional reporting PA

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