Mairead McGuinness: The European Parliament has a role in the fight against Covid-19
The single market must continue to function smoothly
On Thursday , the European Parliament will convene in an emergency session like none other. Interior of European Parliament. Like many of my colleagues, I will participate in proceedings from my home, not from my seat in either Strasbourg or Brussels.
It all happened so fast. We followed the news from Wuhan with concern - people getting sick, dying and China shutting down to control the rapid and deadly spread of Covid-19.
What was so distant from us, is no longer so. Suddenly, the virus had jumped to our shores.
The familiar crowded vibrant streets of Milan, Paris and now even Dublin, Cork and Galway, largely empty and deserted. It was and is a shock to the system. Now, Europe has become the epicentre of the pandemic.
Amid the turmoil, it is at least heartening to see European solidarity in action: we see moving scenes of Europeans applauding healthcare workers from their balconies at the same time each night; French and Italian citizens being airlifted to German hospitals that have spare capacity for treatment; we see inspiring acts of neighbourliness all over the continent and across our own country.
But this does not obscure the scale of the challenge facing us now and in the weeks and months ahead. As Vice President of the European Parliament, I am determined that the Parliament must play its full part. We all need concerted action by the European Union if we are to tackle this crisis successfully.
The single market must work smoothly to continue to allow vital medical devices and personal protection equipment to reach countries and regions with the most acute needs. We will find vaccinations or cures quicker if researchers can work together effectively. Our economies will need all the help they can get, so the financial support and adjustments of the fiscal rules announced by the European Commission are important, as is, of course, the position adopted by the European Central Bank.
The European Parliament is a place of great diversity and like all parliaments is a place of disagreement and compromise, in other words, democracy. Whatever else, no virus can be allowed to prevent the proper functioning of our European democracy. It is essential that MEPs are able to scrutinise these proposals and debate the pandemic, giving voice to the concerns of our citizens and sharing our experiences.
So, on Thursday , the European Parliament will convene in an emergency session like none other. Returning from self-isolation just in time to chair the debates will be President David Sassoli. Like many of my colleagues, I will participate in proceedings from my home, not from my seat in either Strasbourg or Brussels. We will be discussing and voting on more measures to keep Europeans safe and to overcome our common enemy - the virus. For the first time MEPs will vote electronically. All necessary measures are in place to ensure the security and integrity of the voting system.
I hope and trust that the emergency measures we will be voting on will help keep all Europeans safe and to minimise the damage to our economy.
We will vote to make a further €37 billion available in a Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, by freeing up money in the EU budget for regions that has not been used, for countries to spend on health systems, small businesses and the labour market.
We will extend the EU Solidarity Fund, which provides EU money to countries facing a natural disaster, to public health emergencies, such as the COVID-19 outbreak.
And there is a measure allowing for the temporary suspension of rules that oblige airlines to use their slots at EU airports, reflecting the falling demand in flights.
We have a tough few weeks ahead, but no Europeans should feel like they are facing this alone. Like never before, we are in this together. Our healthcare workers, our businesses and farmers and our citizens need our support.
We as good citizens may be physically distancing ourselves from one another but rest assured that we as a European Union are coming together to help you.
The time will come sometime in the future to analyse our collective efforts and decide how future pandemics can be tackled. Health care is a member state competence, yet we now realise that health care is a major concern that crosses borders. This may require us to look again at the healthcare sector from an EU perspective, rather than just member state level.
This pandemic is proving too big a challenge to face alone. Solidarity is, and will be, central to finding the cure and keeping us all safe into the future.
Mairead McGuinness is an MEP for Midlands–North-West and First Vice-President of the European Parliament