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Briefing Notes (series)

The challenge of scaling up the European Union’s global response to COVID-19


Alexei Jones, Katja Sergejeff, Andrew Sherriff, Chloe Teevan and Pauline Veron, ECDPM brief, April 2020

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Over the past few weeks, the EU has been mobilising its full firepower – including health coordination, economic measures and market regulation – to address the COVID-19 crisis within its borders. Yet, in facing a global pandemic that knows no borders, it is in Europe’s interest to mount an effective global response at scale.

The recent ‘Team Europe’ response package is a good start, but it focusses mainly on traditional diplomatic, humanitarian and development instruments that are insufficient for the task at hand. While aid and multilateral action is a vital part of the global response, it needs to be complemented by multiple other financial, humanitarian and regulatory tools. Additional political and technical work also needs to be done to establish ‘how’ to roll out the EU’s global response in a coherent manner. Further, ahead of the G20 and IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings, the EU and its member states should seek to play a more central role in coordinating the international response to the challenge posed by COVID-19 in Africa.

The EU and its member states should try to build a comprehensive global approach by coordinating and linking their assets – both internally and externally. This will require the bureaucracy and political leadership of the EU institutions to think and act globally to a greater extent. If it manages to do this, it would be a real demonstration of global solidarity and would have tangible geopolitical and humanitarian benefits.

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Photo courtesy of Jennifer Jacquemart, European Union 2020 via EC – Audiovisual Service. 

More on COVID-19 and international cooperation

To see all ECDPM work on COVID-19 and international cooperation, have a look at our dossier.

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Alexei Jones


2020-04-16 18:16:10

Dear Jean-Claude, many thanks for your comments. Things are evolving very fast and our intent was to produce relatively quickly a first independent analysis with a specified EU focus to feed into the discussion. The main focus of this paper is the necessity and challenges of mounting and scaling up the EU's "external" response to COVID-19. Obviously, this EU response package doesn't happen in a vacuum and should not be detached neither from what is being done by the EU and the member states "internally", nor from the needs and response measures of partner countries, particularly in Africa. A strong case should indeed be made to this end. Yet as you indicate, most African governments are yet to formulate their own response and their needs, so it was too early to fully integrate this aspect in our paper. ECDPM is currently conducting analysis of the African perspective and this will evidently feature in our future work. Regarding your second point, it seems indeed that aid and public service are back on the agenda. Yet, we think this should be seen as a first step of an integrated and longer-term response. Humanitarian assistance, aid and debt relief (i.e. traditional development cooperation tools - in spite of the blurring of lines between donor / recipient) are certainly the centre of attention right now. They appear as the most tangible and rapid ways to respond to the urgency of the crisis. Yet, what is really needed is a longer perspective that not only puts the economic and social back on track in poorer countries, but also ensures the world as a whole is better prepared for future similar global crises (this includes resilience of health systems, investing in global public goods, better coordination between actors, linking internal and external policies, etc). The so-called "beyond aid" and "policy coherence" agendas become all the more relevant and should be part and parcel of the global response. This should not wait a few more years but rather be carried out simultaneously.

Jean Claude BOIDIN


2020-04-15 23:23:34

Congratulations to ECDPM for putting together this briefing so rapidly after the European Commission presented its global response to COVID-19. The questions you raise on the proposed EU package are valid and comments are presented in a balanced way. Meanwhile, the analysis remains fragile, as we are missing an African perspective on the pandemic: we do not know yet how severe the COVID crisis will be in Africa, we ignore its human and economic impact, and most African governments are yet to formulate their own response and their needs. If Europe designs a response on its own, it would be at odds with the concept of a genuine "partnership" with Africa. Another striking aspect of the COVID crisis is to bring development aid back centrestage. Whether in the form of debt relief of fresh transfers, all voices are calling for more public funds to be channelled to public utilities, notably health systems. With the incoming recession, domestic fiscal resources and remittances will dwindle and private investors are unlikely to increase their engagements in Africa. Moving "beyond aid" may then have to await a few more years, "beyond COVID".

EU foreign and development policyBriefing Notes (series)COVID-19