The European Commission is “extremely mobilised” to ensure that big companies and SMEs survive the economic impact of coronavirus, the Commissioner for Industry Thierry Breton said on Monday (9 March).
The spread of coronavirus across Europe has forced public authorities to take drastic measures, including a complete lockdown in Italy or the closure of schools in Madrid and other parts of Spain.
Markets plunged in Europe and elsewhere, as EU leaders were expected to hold a teleconference on 10 March to discuss what actions could be taken to combat the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
“We need to cooperate in order to protect the health of our citizens,” European Council President Charles Michel wrote on his Twitter account.
Speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon, Breton said the Commission is taking the virus “extremely seriously”, given the impact it is having on public health but also on the European economy.
In the tourism industry alone, one of the most affected sectors by the virus, the economic loss amounts to roughly €1 billion per month, he said.
As Europe is “entering” this crisis, Breton said the priority would be to ensure that “we don’t lose anybody in this situation”, referring to big companies and SMEs
To that end, he listed a series of actions to minimise the economic impact of the falling demand, including providing enough liquidity to SMEs or a loose implementation of some state aid rules to allow for public support.
The European Central Bank will discuss on Thursday measures to address the fallout of the coronavirus. One of the decisions expected by the markets is new credit lines to support the real economy, especially SMEs.
However, Breton ruled out detailing at this stage what measures the EU executive would take or how the EU rules could be tweaked to facilitate state intervention.
“It is too early for me to say”, he stated but added that the Commission is “extremely mobilised” and well-coordinated to take action.
“We cannot react without understanding very well the figures,” he explained, suggesting that the Commission would wait until companies announce their first-quarter results in April to take action.
In order to face this difficult moment, Breton called for solidarity not only among member states but also among firms, especially those inside the same industrial “ecosystem”.
In this regard, Breton announced that he will hold a teleconference today with companies manufacturing protective material, such as masks and gloves, and national authorities to guarantee that no needs are uncovered, especially among health workers.
He said he would hold a similar call with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry later this week.
The goal is to “visualise” the production capacity in Europe and outstanding needs in affected member states, including Italy, to better allocate resources.
“When we see exactly where we stand, solidarity could start, but we will be more organised than today,” he explained.
However, he was unclear on how far the Commission would go in pressing member states to remove controversial export controls of medical material, imposed by France and Germany last week, or whether he would ‘name and shame’ member states failing to cooperate with those in need.
“We are not here to blame, we are here to organise ourselves,” he said. “No one has the power to say ‘you should do this’, but we should organise, all together, with good will, the supply and demand”.