Common approach to the pandemic

European Council video conference Common approach to the pandemic

On Thursday, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel met virtually with the heads of state and government of the EU to reach agreement on a common approach to tackling the coronavirus pandemic. On the second day of the conference, the European Council dealt with foreign and security policy issues.

The photo shows Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel at a video conference

The European Council’s virtual meeting: The first day focused on the fight against the pandemic

Photo: Bundesregierung / Sandra Steins

At the start of their virtual meeting the heads of state and government discussed the current situation as regards the coronavirus pandemic. Infection rates in many member states remain high. In the light of the virus variants, in particular the ones first registered in the United Kingdom, some member states found themselves in a difficult position and were extremely cautious when it comes to strategies for lifting restrictions, the Federal Chancellor said following the video conference on Thursday evening.

Producing more vaccines

The key issue of the day was the use and manufacture of vaccines. The vaccination campaign had got off to a slow start, said Merkel. She had pointed out that logistical plans needed to be drawn up within the space of only a few weeks so as to be able to actually inoculate people with those vaccines which were available.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had informed the heads of state and government about the quantities of vaccine which had been promised by manufacturers, said the Federal Chancellor. Owing to possible new virus variants, member states needed to be prepared to carry out coronavirus immunisations for years to come, in the same way as they did against influenza.

Angela Merkel went on to explain that the European Commission had set up a Task Force headed by EU Commissioner Thierry Breton. It would be finding out “how production capacities along the entire supply chain could be established within the EU so as to be able to produce the vaccines here,” Merkel added.

The EU also has plans to create the  HERA--Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority Incubator. It will bring together research, industry and public authorities in order to enable a more decisive response to virus variants. Over the next few months the Commission will be developing an institutional model. All the heads of state and government supported these plans, Merkel said.

Fighting the coronavirus together – Why is it important? 
The coronavirus pandemic poses challenges to countries across national borders. That in particular applies within the EU – an area without internal borders. The only way countries will be able to contain the pandemic is if they cooperate closely across Europe. That is why it is important for member states to closely coordinate their joint actions. 

Maintaining the Single Market as far as possible

In the light of the virus variants which are currently circulating, the heads of state and government also discussed travel restrictions and border controls. Germany as well as other member states had taken these measures in order to stop the spread of the virus variants across those border regions which had high rates of infection.

“I explained that Germany – although we are not alone here – would, in certain situations, be forced to reintroduce certain restrictions either in regions with high incidence rates or with virus variants,” Angela Merkel said. But the Federal Government was doing everything it could to enable the free movement of goods, she went on, and to ensure that commuters, for instance, could get still to work by means of testing.

Digital vaccination certificate

The European Council also discussed the EU-wide introduction of a digital vaccination certificate. “We are all agreed that we need one,” the Federal Chancellor said. Merkel said that she expected that, within the next three months, the EU member states will have developed digital vaccination certificates and the Commission will have created the technical conditions necessary. These vaccination certificates would be interoperable, Angela Merkel explained, via a gateway at EU level. “That will make travel within the European Union possible by having more information,” Merkel said, and it would perhaps also become the basis for allowing third-country nationals to enter the European Union.

The governments of the 27 member states had been in agreement that, given the current low level of vaccination, such a vaccination passport was not yet a relevant issue. But one needed to be prepared, Merkel said. In addition, the vaccination passport could not be the only measure to determine who would be able to travel. Tests could also contribute to that, she added.

Security and defence 

On Friday the heads of state and government discussed security and defence policy as well as the Southern Neighbourhood. They also discussed cooperation between the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

The Federal Chancellor advocated enhancing both transatlantic and European defence capabilities. The close cooperation between the EU and NATO could also encompass structured cooperation between the EU and the United States of America.

Strategic Compass

The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, gave an update on work on the Strategic Compass. This initiative provides the framework for the EU’s future defence and security activities. The Federal Government welcomes the fact that the Compass will be in place by next year, and that it will make concrete proposals based on a threat analysis.

The Federal Chancellor emphasised that the security analysis which the EU needed to conduct would have to be comprehensive. It should cover military threats, terrorism, cyber and hybrid threats, climate and sustainability issues, as well as migration, she said.

EU cooperation on security and defence – Why is it important?
The number of conflicts in the EU’s immediate vicinity has increased. None of the member states of the EU can overcome these challenges on its own. That is why it is important for the EU member states to cooperate closely on security and defence policy. If the EU can contribute to promoting stability in the region, people will be able to live more safely.