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#EuropeanSemester - Commission presents Spring Package for a co-ordinated response to #Coronavirus pandemic

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Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni
The Commission has proposed country-specific recommendations (CSRs) providing economic policy guidance to all EU member states in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, focused on the most urgent challenges brought about by the pandemic and on relaunching sustainable growth.

The recommendations are structured around two objectives: in the short-term, mitigating the coronavirus pandemic's severe negative socio-economic consequences; and in the short to medium-term, achieving sustainable and inclusive growth which facilitates the green transition and the digital transformation.

A refocused European Semester package

The Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy outlined the Commission's growth strategy, based on promoting competitive sustainability to build an economy that works for people and the planet. With the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis this remains of utmost importance. The recommendations cover the four dimensions of competitive sustainability - stability, fairness, environmental sustainability and competitiveness - and also place a specific emphasis on health. The recommendations also reflect the Commission's commitment to integrating the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals into the European Semester as they offer an integrated framework encompassing public health, social, environmental and economic concerns.

The recommendations cover areas such as investing in public health and resilience of the health sector, preserving employment through income support for affected workers, investing in people and skills, supporting the corporate sector (in particular small and medium-sized enterprises) and taking action against aggressive tax planning and money laundering. Recovery and investment must go hand-in-hand, reshaping the EU economy faced with the digital and green transitions.

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The fiscal CSRs this year are qualitative, departing from the budgetary requirements that would normally apply. They reflect the activation of the general escape clause, recommending that member states take all necessary measures to effectively address the pandemic, sustain the economy and support the ensuing recovery. When economic conditions allow, fiscal policies should aim at achieving prudent medium term fiscal positions and ensuring debt sustainability, while enhancing investment.

Monitoring fiscal developments

The Commission has also adopted reports under Article 126(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU for all member states except Romania, which is already in the corrective arm of the Pact.

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The Commission is required to prepare these reports for member states that are themselves planning – for reasons related to the coronavirus - or are forecast by the Commission, to breach the 3% deficit limit in 2020. The reports for France, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Spain also assess these Member States' compliance with the debt criterion in 2019, based on confirmed data validated by Eurostat.

These reports take into account the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on national public finances. In light of the exceptional uncertainty related to the extraordinary macroeconomic and fiscal impact of the pandemic, the Commission considers that at this juncture a decision on whether to place member states under the excessive deficit procedure should not be taken.

Next steps

A coordinated European economic response is crucial to relaunch economic activity, mitigate damage to the economic and social fabric, and to reduce divergences and imbalances. The European Semester of economic and employment policy coordination therefore constitutes a crucial element of the recovery strategy.

Against this background, the Commission calls on the Council to adopt these country-specific recommendations and on member states to implement them fully and in a timely manner.

An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said: "The Coronavirus has hit us like an asteroid and left a crater-shaped hole in the European economy. This spring semester package has been recast and streamlined to provide guidance to our member states as they navigate their way through the storm. For this immediate phase, our focus is on investing in public health and protecting jobs and companies. As we shift to the recovery, the semester will be essential in providing a coordinated approach to put our economies back on the track to sustainable and inclusive growth - no one should be left behind. We also need reforms to improve productivity and the business environment. Once conditions allow, we will need to strike a balance between achieving fiscal sustainability while also stimulating investment.”

Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said: “Supporting workers, reinforcing social protection, fighting inequalities and guaranteeing people the right to develop their skills will be top priorities for our economic response to the crisis, as well as to ensure inclusive green and digital transitions. We can only achieve this together. The European Pillar of Social Rights remains our compass in these endeavours. The post-coronavirus recovery must foster resilience and upward convergence by putting people at the centre.”

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni (pictured) said: “The coronavirus pandemic and the necessary containment measures have dealt a brutal blow to Europe's economies. These recommendations reflect that unprecedented situation. The priorities today are to strengthen our health care, support our workers, save our businesses. Yet the challenges we faced before this crisis have not gone away. So as we look to the future, our investment and reform objectives must remain focused on making a success of the green and digital transitions and ensuring social fairness. That also means everyone must pay their share: there can be no place for aggressive tax planning in a Europe of solidarity and fairness.”

Surveillance reports for Greece, Spain and Cyprus

The Commission adopted the sixth enhanced surveillance report for Greece. The report concludes that, considering the extraordinary circumstances posed by the Coronavirus outbreak, Greece has taken the necessary actions to achieve its due specific reform commitments.

The Commission has also adopted the post-programme surveillance reports for Spain and Cyprus.

More information

European Semester 2020 Spring Package: Questions and answers

Factsheet: European Semester Spring Package

Communication on the country-specific recommendations

Country-specific recommendations

Reports under Article 126(3)

Sixth enhanced surveillance report for Greece

Post-programme surveillance report for Spain

Post-programme surveillance report for Cyprus

European Semester 2020: Country reports

Spring 2020 Economic Forecast

Stability and Growth Pact

Macroeconomic imbalance procedure

The European Semester

 

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German ICUs expect COVID peak to hit hospitals at Christmas

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Germany is likely to reach a peak of its fourth wave of COVID-19 infections by mid-December and this could mean 6,000 intensive care beds occupied by Christmas, the country's association for intensive care medicine (DIVI) said on Wednesday (1 December), write Paul Carrel and Emma Thomasson, Reuters.

Andreas Schuppert, a forecaster for the DIVI association, told a news conference he was "moderately optimistic" the peak in new cases would come in the next two weeks, but warned this would take time to have its full impact on hospitals.

"It is an ominous situation," DIVI president Gernot Marx told reporters. "We would be well advised to react immediately. We must get ahead of the situation."

About 4,600 intensive care beds are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients, compared with a previous high of 5,745 on Jan. 3 when Germany was in a full lockdown.

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However, the DIVI said a shortage of nursing staff means Germany now only has about 9,000 beds where patients can receive artificial respiration, down from 12,000 a year ago.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany's state infectious disease agency, reported 67,186 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, up 302 from a week ago, and 446 deaths, the highest daily figure since Feb. 18 - bringing the overall death toll to 101,790.

However, the seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 fell for a second day to 442.9 people, from 452.2 people on Tuesday.

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Germany's federal and regional governments agreed on Tuesday to take action, including stepping up the vaccination campaign and restricting contact, especially for unvaccinated people.

Already criticised by scientists for acting too late, the leaders agreed to take firm decisions on Thursday on proposals such as compelling customers to show proof of vaccination or recovery in shops and limiting numbers of people at big events.

Four people in southern Germany have tested positive for the newly identified Omicron coronavirus variant even though they were fully vaccinated, the public health office in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said.

Three of the infected people returned from a business trip to South Africa on Nov. 26 and Nov. 27 respectively, and the fourth person is a family member of one of the returnees. All four showed moderate symptoms of COVID-19.

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ACI EUROPE urges governments to adhere to WHO guidance and reject blanket travel bans

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Airport trade body ACI EUROPE has given its strongest support to the World Health Organization’s call for a calm and measured response to the Omicron variant, and urged governments to react accordingly. Specifically, in its updated COVID-19 Travel Advice, the WHO states: "Countries should continue to apply an evidence-informed and risk-based approach when implementing travel measures. Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods Europe’s airports are at the front line of a country’s travel policy. They have seen first-hand the dramatic and disproportionate impact of travel bans and other extreme travel restrictions - specifically quarantines - which have little effect upon the epidemiological situation."

The WHO’s unequivocal guidance to countries not to knee-jerk into travel bans is extremely welcome. The updated advice comes as ACI EUROPE welcomed the European Commission’s new travel regime proposals issued last week, which place the emphasis on a travellers’ health status rather than their country of departure. Societal and economic damage ensues when extreme travel restrictions such as those recently imposed by some countries override the lessons learned through the pandemic to date.

ACI EUROPE Director General Olivier Jankovecsaid: “We know beyond any doubt from the experience gained over these past 20 months that blanket travel bans and quarantines are not effective in preventing the spread of new variants. While they have no impact on the epidemiological situation, they do have dramatic consequences upon livelihoods. We urge all countries to follow the WHO advice and make sure they follow evidence-informed and risk-based approaches when reviewing their travel regimes, as part of precautionary measures in relation to the Omicron variant. In particular, targeted pre-departure testing should be preferred over travel bans and quarantines. Effective coordination and alignment at EU level involving all EEA countries, Switzerland and also the UK is a must”.

ACI EUROPE also pointed to the urgency of achieving greater rollout of vaccinations not just in Europe but globally. Jankovec commented: "It would be difficult not to link the emergence and spread of the Omicron variant with the current situation of global vaccination inequity – which painfully proves the point that 'nobody is safe until everybody is safe' as repeatedly said by Commission President von der Leyen. But that means the EU and other European countries must do much more to ensure COVAX gets vaccines swiftly to low income countries. This could also potentially require the EU to align with the US with a view to wave patents and other intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Securing wider and fairer access to vaccination and therapeutics across the World is an absolute prerequisite to effectively mitigate the risk of other variants of concern emerging. The aviation and travel and tourism sectors are the most directly exposed to rebounds in the COVID-19 pandemic. We just can’t go on like that.”

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First suspected case of Omicron variant of COVID-19 detected in Switzerland

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The first probable case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been detected in Switzerland, the government said late on Sunday (28 November), as the country tightened its entry restrictions to check its spread, writes John Revill, Reuters.

The case relates to a person who returned to Switzerland from South Africa around a week ago, the Federal Office for Public Health said on Twitter.

Testing will clarify the situation in the coming days, it added.

Switzerland has ordered that travellers from 19 countries must present a negative test when boarding a fight to the country, and must go into quarantine for 10 days on arrival.

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The list includes Australia, Denmark, Britain, Czech Republic, South Africa and Israel.

Swiss voters on Sunday backed the government's pandemic response plan by a bigger than expected majority in a referendum, paving the way for the continuation of exceptional measures to stem the rising tide of COVID-19 cases. Read more.

Some 62.01% voted in favour of a law passed earlier this year to provide financial aid to people hit by the COVID-19 crisis and laying the foundation for certificates giving proof of COVID-19 vaccination, recovery or a negative test. These are currently required to enter bars, restaurants and certain events.

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