What’s going on this Thursday?
The heads of state and government will meet by video conference this Thursday at 6 p.m. to take stock of the fight against Covid-19.
On December 10th, after a long dispute with Poland and Hungary, the personal summit in Brussels led to an unprecedented solidarity effort: a € 750 billion recovery plan. The atmosphere promises to still have a fever tonight.
Why this meeting is important
1- The health situation is deteriorating almost everywhere in Europe with an increase in cases and the spread of the contagious British variant.
A thousand deaths were counted in Germany on Tuesday. After 70,000 contaminations in seven days, Portugal is the country in the world with the most cases in relation to its population (10 million inhabitants). And France saw more than 10,000 new hospitalizations in a week.
2- This fearful context encourages Member States to increase individual health restrictions. Greece is pushing for the idea of a European vaccination pass, which Paris and Berlin reject. Germany does not rule out closing its borders if its partners do not harmonize their responses in order to protect itself from this new outbreak of the epidemic.
3- The vaccination campaign launched in late 2020, with its share of controversy over the lack of doses, adds to the tension.
4- Several hot files are on the table. And the twenty-seven fighting the coronavirus in dispersed order are once again asked by Brussels to form a unified front in dealing with the pandemic. “This is how the EU will emerge from the crisis,” argues Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President of the European Commission, as new differences of opinion emerge.
What will the European heads of state and government discuss?
In particular, the European Commission’s roadmap provides for:
1- Accelerate the vaccination campaign to reach 70% of the adult population vaccinated by summer (without a specific date) in all European countries. “Of 13 million doses dispensed, only 5 were injected,” says the managing director, who has so far relied on a firm order of 760 million doses (BioNtech / Pfizer and Moderna). Countries are invited to share more about their practices in order to avoid “dropouts” and increase recognition of the new British variant.
2- Solidarity efforts with European partners (especially the Western Balkans and Africa). This could take the form of a donation of 1% of the doses dispensed by each Member State. The EU has signed six pre-reservation contracts that will ultimately ensure the supply of a total of 2.3 billion cans.
“We will only end this pandemic if the entire world population has access to vaccines,” argues the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. At first it might be difficult to pass the initiative on to the population, who are now impatient to receive the precious injection.
3- Official initiation of the debate on the European vaccination protocol. The idea that Athens proposed last Thursday has been supported with caution by the European Commission. But the extremely sensitive debate among the Twenty-seven is far from unanimous. Paris thinks it is “premature” and “shocking” if the entire population does not yet have access to the vaccine.
Freedom to move on the fringes of debates
The closing of the borders is not officially on the agenda of the meeting. But the vaccination record and the freedom (or not) to spread that this could lead to bitter discussions this Thursday between the twenty-seven.
In the absence of a consensus on the harmonization of health restrictions, Germany threatens to tighten borders within the EU. In this file, Berlin is under pressure from Bavaria and Baden-Wurtenberg (border with Alsace).
“If the federal states go completely different ways (…), we have to be ready to say that we also have to reintroduce border controls,” warns Chancellor Angela Merkel. The strengthening of border controls was also mentioned on Franceinfo last week by French Foreign Minister Clément Beaune. Several countries (Austria, Belgium, Italy, Spain) have already introduced strict entry requirements into their territory.
From mid-March to mid-June 2020, the free movement of European citizens in the Schengen area was even completely stopped. “All non-essential travel should be strongly discouraged until the epidemic situation has improved significantly,” the Commission now pleads.
Without affecting economic exchanges in order to ensure the “proper functioning of the internal market”. Frontier workers “can definitely continue their work,” said Clément Beaune on Wednesday. On the other hand, the last and rare travel opportunities in Europe risk another blow with the knife. “