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The economy, the environment and people's well-being must go hand in hand in post-COVID EU

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At the July plenary session of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the president, Christa Schweng, and members met with prominent speakers to discuss the future European economy after the pandemic.

Economic prosperity, care for the environment and people's well-being can and must go hand in hand. This was the key message delivered by the EESC president, Christa Schweng, at the debate on A post-COVID economy that works for all - Towards a well-being economy? held at the EESC plenary session on 7 July 2021.

Schweng argued that in future we clearly needed to monitor and value broader aspects than those reflected in GDP more effectively: "Aspects like our health, our nature, our education, our ability to innovate and our communities matter," she said.

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Referring to "combining the idea of prosperity with the possibility of social progress on a global scale", with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals as the foundation, she added: "The time has come for the EU to work on a comprehensive strategy: the EESC is ready to support the reflection on the foundations for a post-COVID economy that works for all and includes new indicators for economic performance and social progress that can provide a comprehensive picture of people's well-being."

Beyond GDP: towards a well-being economy

Four prominent speakers took part in the plenary debate.

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Tim Jackson, from the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, made clear that it was health - and not wealth - which was the foundation for prosperity and the foundation for thinking what kind of economy we wanted after the pandemic. He pointed out that GDP had many limitations and that it was important to break the "GDP growth dependency" and start reflecting on how welfare systems could be maintained in economies which do not have the expected level of growth.

Fabrice Murtin, from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), maintained that well-being per se was a very complex system and that there was not one single economy of well-being but many economies. He stressed that it was vital to start shaping people‑centred policies and that social inequality was a systemic weakness and lowered efficiency.

According to Sandrine Dixson-Declève, representing the Club of Rome, it was crucial to focus on healthy people within a healthy Europe and move from GDP-based growth to welfare and security. The lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic could be used to understand what was essential and bring about change.

Finally, James Watson, from Business Europe, said that GDP was originally conceived as a measure for commercial activity but it still made sense to use it in spite of its limitations. The way forward would be to complement it with a broader and balanced scorecard made up of other indicators such as economic, social and environmental indicators.

A people-centred economy

Taking the floor during the debate, Séamus Boland, president of the Diversity Europe Group, emphasised that societal progress and an economy that works for all could only be achieved through a transition to an alternative model of development firmly rooted in the SDGs and that the COVID‑19 crisis was the opportunity to get it right.

Stefano Mallia, president of the Employers Group, said that with new priorities such as the EU Green Deal, NextGenerationEU, a Just Transition and climate neutrality by 2050 we would have a whole set of new indicators to consult. To deliver high-quality jobs and sustainable growth, we needed two pillars: a strong and resilient industrial basis in order to remain at the forefront of global technology and innovation, as well as open markets and a rules-based multilateral system which preserves EU interests and values.

Oliver Röpke, president of the Workers Group, said that, following the strong commitment to the targets of the social pillar at the Porto summit, the well-being economy should also cater for working people and their families, ensuring decent wages, strong collective bargaining and strong worker participation to manage the green and digital transitions. He added that economic recovery should go hand in hand with social well-being if it was to be sustainable.

Lastly, Peter Schmidt, president of the Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment (NAT) and rapporteur for the EESC opinion on The sustainable economy we need, concluded by saying that a well-being economy was based on serving people and that the EU must take the opportunity afforded by the pandemic to reflect on our weaknesses and come up with proposals.

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Coronavirus: 200th EU disinfection robot delivered to European hospital, a further 100 confirmed

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On 21 September, the Commission delivered the 200th disinfection robot – to Consorci Corporació Sanitària Parc Taulí hospital in Barcelona. The robots, donated by the Commission, help sanitize COVID-19 patient rooms and are part of the Commission's action to supply hospitals across the EU to help them cope with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Further to these initial 200 robots announced in November last year, the Commission secured the purchase an additional 100, bringing the total donations to 300.

A Europe fit for the Digital Age Executive Vice President for Margrethe Vestager, said: “Assisting member states overcome the challenges of the pandemic continues to be a number one priority and these donations – a very tangible form of support – are a prime example of what can be achieved. This is European solidarity in action and I am pleased to see the Commission can go the extra mile in donating an additional 100 disinfection robots to hospitals in need.”

Twenty-five disinfection robots have already been working night and day across Spain since February to help tackle the spread of the coronavirus. Nearly every EU Member State has now received at least one disinfection robot, which disinfects a standard patient room in under 15 minutes, alleviating hospital staff and offering them and their patients greater protection against potential infection. This action is made possible through the Emergency Support Instrument and the devices are supplied by Danish company UVD robots, which won an emergency procurement tender.

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Coronavirus: Commission signs contract for the supply of a monoclonal antibody treatment

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The Commission has signed a joint procurement framework contract with the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly for the supply of a monoclonal antibody treatment for coronavirus patients. This marks the latest development in this first portfolio of five promising therapeutics announced by the Commission under the EU COVID-19 Therapeutics Strategy in June 2021. The medicine is currently under rolling review by the European Medicines Agency. 18 member states have signed up to the joint procurement for the purchase of up to 220,000 treatments.

Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “Over 73% of the EU adult population is now fully vaccinated, and this rate will still increase. But vaccines cannot be our only response to COVID-19. People still continue to be infected and fall ill. We need to continue our work to prevent illness with vaccines and at the same time ensure that we can treat it with therapeutics. With today's signature, we conclude our third procurement and deliver on our commitment under the EU Therapeutics Strategy to facilitate access to state-of-the-art medicines for COVID-19 patients.”

While vaccination remains the strongest asset both against the virus and its variants, therapeutics play a critical role in the COVID-19 response. They help to save lives, speed up recovery time, reduce the length of hospitalisation and ultimately ease the burden of health care systems.

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The product from Eli Lilly is a combination of two monoclonal antibodies (bamlanivimab and etesevimab) for the treatment of coronavirus patients who do not require oxygen but are at high risk of severe COVID-19. Monoclonal antibodies are proteins conceived in the laboratory that mimic the immune system's ability to fight the coronavirus. They fuse to the spike protein and thus block the virus's attachment to the human cells.

Under the EU Joint Procurement Agreement, the European Commission has concluded until now nearly 200 contracts for different medical countermeasures with a cumulative value of over €12 billion. Under the joint procurement framework contract concluded with Eli Lilly, member states can purchase the combination product bamlanivimab and etesevimab if and when needed, once it has received either a conditional marketing authorisation at EU level from the European Medicines Agency or an emergency use authorisation in the member state concerned.

Background

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Today's joint procurement contract follows the contract signed with Roche for the product REGN-COV2, a combination of Casirivimab and Imdevimab, on 31 March 2021 and the contract with Glaxo Smith Kline on 27 July 2021 for the supply of sotrovimab (VIR-7831), developed in collaboration with VIR biotechnology.

The EU Strategy on COVID-19 Therapeutics, adopted on 6 May 2021, aims to build a broad portfolio of COVID-19 therapeutics with the goal of having three new therapeutics available by October 2021 and possibly two more by the end of the year. It covers the full lifecycle of medicines from research, development, selection of promising candidates, fast regulatory approval, manufacturing and deployment to final use. It will also coordinate, scale-up and ensure that the EU acts together in ensuring access to therapeutics via joint procurements.

The Strategy forms part of a strong European Health Union, using a coordinated EU approach to better protect the health of our citizens, equip the EU and its Member States to better prevent and address future pandemics, and improve resilience of Europe's health systems. Focusing on the treatment of patients with COVID-19, the Strategy works alongside the successful EU Vaccines Strategy, through which safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 have been authorised for use in the EU to prevent and reduce transmission of cases, as well as hospitalisation rates and deaths caused by the disease.

On 29 June 2021, the strategy delivered its first outcome, with the announcement of five candidate therapeutics that could soon be available to treat patients across the EU. The five products are in an advanced stage of development and have a high potential to be among the three new COVID-19 therapeutics to receive authorization by October 2021, the target set under the strategy, provided the final data demonstrate their safety, quality and efficacy.

Global co-operation on therapeutics is crucial and a key component of our strategy. The Commission is committed to working together with international partners on COVID-19 therapeutics and make them available globally. The Commission is also exploring how to support the enabling environment for manufacturing health products, while strengthening research capacity in partner countries around the globe.

More information

EU Therapeutics Strategy

Coronavirus response

Safe COVID-19 vaccines for Europeans

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SURE: Report confirms instrument's success in protecting jobs and incomes

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The Commission has published its second report on the impact of SURE, the €100 billion instrument designed to protect jobs and incomes affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report finds that SURE has been successful in cushioning the severe socio-economic impact resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. National labour market measures supported by SURE are estimated to have reduced unemployment by almost 1.5 million people in 2020. SURE has helped to effectively contain the increase in unemployment in the beneficiary member states during the crisis. Thanks to SURE and other support measures, this increase in unemployment has turned out to be significantly smaller than during the global financial crisis, despite the much larger fall in GDP.

SURE is a crucial element of the EU's comprehensive strategy to protect citizens and mitigate the negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides financial support in the form of loans granted on favourable terms from the EU to Member States to finance national short-time work schemes, similar measures to preserve jobs and support incomes ­ – notably for the self-employed, and some health-related measures.

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A total of €94.3 billion of financial assistance has so far been approved to 19 member states, of which €89.6bn has been disbursed. SURE can still provide almost €6bn of financial assistance to member states out of the total envelope of €100bn.

Main findings

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SURE has supported approximately 31 million people in 2020, of which 22.5 million are employees and 8.5 million self-employed. This represents more than one quarter of the total number of people employed in the 19 beneficiary Member States.

Moreover, around 2.5 million firms affected by the COVID-19 pandemic have benefitted from SURE, allowing them to retain workers.

Given the EU's strong credit rating, beneficiary Member States have saved an estimated €8.2 billion in interest payments thanks to SURE.

The Commission raised a further €36 billion across three issuances since the time of the drafting of the first report in March 2021. These issuances were largely oversubscribed. All funds have been raised as social bonds, giving investors confidence that their money goes towards a social purpose, and making the EU the world's largest issuer of social bonds.

On 4 March 2021, the Commission presented a Recommendation on Effective Active Support to Employment following the COVID-19 crisis (EASE). It outlines a strategic approach to gradually transition between emergency measures taken to preserve jobs during the pandemic and new measures needed for a job-rich recovery. With EASE, the Commission promotes job creation and job-to-job transitions, including towards the digital and green sectors, and invites Member States to use available EU funds.

An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “The SURE scheme has proven its worth and continues to fulfil its purpose. We created it during an emergency to prop up people's incomes, protect their families and preserve their livelihoods when they needed it most. Its success can be measured by the figures in today's report, showing that SURE managed to keep many millions of Europeans in a job during the worst of the crisis. It has played a major part in Europe's overall response, for which we must also thank national governments. As we exit the pandemic, our approach should gradually focus on promoting quality job creation and easing job-to-job transitions through training and other measures.”

Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said: “The SURE instrument has proven to be both innovative and indispensable. It is a shining example of a Europe that protects and works for people. The report published today states that making finance available to Member States through SURE helped avoid up to 1.5 million more people entering unemployment in 2020. SURE helped to stem this flow. Now, we must act equally resolutely and quickly to put in place active labour market policies for a job-rich recovery in the changing labour market.”

Background

The Commission proposed the SURE Regulation on 2 April 2020, as part of the EU's initial response to the pandemic. It was adopted by the Council on 19 May 2020, and became available after all member states signed the guarantee agreements on 22 September 2020. The first disbursement took place five weeks after SURE became available.

Budget and Administration Commissioner Johannes Hahn said: “It is reassuring that the money raised on the market under SURE has helped EU countries achieved impressive results in a short period of time. For the Commission, SURE has set the scene for borrowing under the much bigger NextGenerationEU recovery instrument. With €49 billion disbursed to 13 EU countries so far and a few billion to EU budget programmes, NextGenerationEU is also making sure the recovery works for all.”

Today's report is the second report on SURE addressed to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Financial Committee (EFC) and the Employment Committee (EMCO). Under Article 14 of the SURE Regulation, the Commission is legally required to issue such a report within 6 months of the day that the instrument became available. The first report was published on 22 March 2021. Subsequent reports will follow every six months for as long as SURE remains available.

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “This second report on the impact of SURE confirms the value of this unprecedented instrument of solidarity. The figures speak for themselves: 1.5 million fewer unemployed, 31 million workers and 2.5 million firms supported, and more than €8 billion in interest savings. I am proud of the European success story that is SURE: a success story upon which we must build!”

The Commission is issuing social bonds to finance the SURE instrument and using the proceeds to provide back-to-back loans to beneficiary member states. Further information on these bonds, along with a full overview of the funds raised under each issuance and the beneficiary member states, is available online here.

More information

Second report on the implementation of SURE

SURE website

Factsheet on SURE

SURE Regulation

EU as a borrower website

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