The EU should go further in its response to the coronavirus crisis by setting up a “European Health Response Mechanism” and recovery bonds guaranteed by the EU budget, MEPs urged in a resolution adopted Friday.
The joint motion for a resolution “on EU coordinated action to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences” was voted through by 395 to 171, after 694 of the legislators cast their ballot remotely via email.
The text is a nonbinding set of recommendations that acknowledged “the limits of the Union’s capacity to act decisively” in the crisis, the European Commission’s “lack of executive and budgetary powers,” and the need for the EU to undergo “a profound reform in response.”
The text argues that the EU acquire greater powers on health including by creating a response mechanism “to better prepare and respond in a common and coordinated way to any type of health or sanitary crisis that emerges at EU level.”
While the use of so-called corona bonds to pool EU debt and use the cash to pay for economic recovery has stirred controversy between northern and southern countries, the Parliament found a compromise. The motion rules out the mutualization of past debt but argues for a “massive” recovery plan financed by an increased EU budget, existing EU funds and financial instruments, and “recovery bonds” guaranteed by the EU budget.
“We are trying to make sure that each country’s spending will be shared from now on,” Parliament President David Sassoli said at a press conference following the vote. This proposal “counts for the reconstruction plan, it doesn’t count for previous debt.”
EU finance ministers have backed emergency credit lines but have not agreed on how to finance a recovery fund. EU leaders are due to meet via videoconference on April 23 to consider a €540 billion package of initiatives.
Though the Parliament has had little power of decision in the face of the coronavirus crisis, MEPs will vote on any legislation that will affect the EU budget, including the EU’s recovery plan.
The resolution stirred some controversy, including among the northern delegation inside the centrist Renew Europe group, which was not eager to support the use of bonds for the EU’s recovery response.
An amendment to set up an EU data center to collect all available coronavirus data was not passed after Renew Europe and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) voted against it.
“The Socialists and Liberals in the European Parliament have denied the European Union an extremely useful tool in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic,” said German MEP Christian Ehler of the center-right European People’s Party.
One S&D official said the group believed that there was “no need to develop any new common standards for data,” as the EU could use existing tools such as its ePrivacy Directive and the General Data Protection Regulation.
MEPs also urged the Commission to “urgently assess” the emergency measures linked to the coronavirus crisis in Hungary, after Prime Minister Viktor Orbán gained powers to rule by decree for an unlimited period of time. MEPs also voiced concern over Poland’s decision to organize presidential elections in the middle of a pandemic, which they said “may endanger the lives of Polish citizens.”