EU leaders to Europe on Europe Day: We’re Number 1

In video message, 30 leaders celebrate their Union and vow to overcome coronavirus pandemic.

EU leaders to Europe on Europe Day: We’re Number 1

Europe. Is. The. Best.

That, at least, is the humble opinion of the EU’s 27 national leaders and the three presidents of its main institutions in a “Happy Europe Day” video message posted Saturday, marking the 70th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, regarded as the foundation stone of today’s European Union.

The video, organized by European Council President Charles Michel, shows off the leaders’ newfound expertise in tele-working during the age of coronavirus, with each of the 30 sending greetings in their own language. Many recorded their clips with dramatic backdrops that would make professional YouTubers proud, or at least not cringe: from rooftops and balconies overlooking sweeping cityscapes, in gilded offices, beside an array of flags, behind giant wooden desks, or in front of rolling verdant lawns.

But in its own hokey way, the video also gives a glimpse into the breadth of EU leadership, from President Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus, a 73-year-old grandfather of four, to Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, age 34, who has a two-and-a-half year old daughter. The clips shows leaders who have been tested severely by the pandemic in recent weeks, and are now confronting the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression — a fact reflected in messages that stressed perseverance.

And in an age of making great places great again, it shows the perhaps quaint possibility that politicians can boast a bit, and  actually sound nice at the same time.

“Europe is freedom, tolerance, openness, diversity, respect, innovation, creativity, dynamism,” Michel says, opening the parade of clips. “Europe is also about solidarity and unity.”

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, whose country holds the presidency of the Council of the EU, offered the official “Happy Europe Day” greeting, as well as a proclamation of victory against the coronavirus. “Despite the COVID-19  pandemic, we have come out of this situation stronger,” he said.

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa was the first to declare the EU the best.

“It’s the best economic space of shared wealth,” he said.

The video seemed at its most realistic during interludes when it showed a video collage of all the leaders all talking over each other like a gaggle of high-ranking government geese trapped in a Zoom call.

French President Emmanuel Macron, as usual, seemed to be the most animated, his hands chopping and punching the air as he spoke. “To dare, to reinvent, to unite, to think and act for the future,” Macron said, looking, for a moment, as if he might jump off the screen and into your living room. “This is the European spirit that we need today once more.”

Some of the leaders’ messages on Europe reflected the traditions of their countries and political parties. Sweden’s Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said: “I call it the strong societies, with welfare for those who need it, and where every child is given the best possible chance in life.”

Then there was liberal Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte who said: “When people ask me what is European cooperation for? I always have a simple answer, for our jobs and for our security.” In other words, Happy Birthday, Europe. Now get back to work.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took a sort of post-modern approach, with a video showing himself on a balcony overlooking Budapest taking a selfie-video with his mobile phone. “If not now when?” Orbán said, quoting the ancient Babylonian rabbi Hillel. “There has never been a greater need for cooperation among European countries.”

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who has become well-practiced at delivering video messages during the pandemic, stood by a gently flowing EU flag, and described Europe as a torch passed from generation to generation.

“For me Europe is home,” she said. “For my parents, Europe was peace. For my generation, Europe is freedom and rule of law. And for my children, Europe is future and open-mindedness. This is what I’m fighting for. Long live Europe.”

Some leaders took a bit more credit for Europe’s best-ness than others. “Europa was a Greek goddess,” said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. “She continues to guide us as she travels through our countries, protecting our Continent.”

Slovakian Prime Minister Igor Matovič was perhaps the most realistic. ‘The EU can sometimes be a bit tedious or complicated, but at the same time it makes us feel safe and secure.”

But it was Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov who seemed to sum up the overarching message. “Europe is the best place to live,” he said. “The best place for democracy, solidarity and people’s rights.”

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Paris yet to provide details of cash pledge for coronavirus fight

Days after high-profile conference, questions remain over where money will come from and where it will go.

Paris yet to provide details of cash pledge for coronavirus fight

PARIS — France played a central role in the EU-led effort that raised €7.4 billion in pledges for the global fight against coronavirus — but it has yet to detail how it’s sourcing or allocating its own contribution.

At the conference on Monday, President Emmanuel Macron announced France will commit €500 million to the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator, an international collaboration intended to speed up the development and production of new vaccines, tests and treatments.

But four days later, neither Macron’s office nor the ministries involved (including health and budget) have been able to tell POLITICO where the money is coming from, or how it’ll be allocated.

On Friday, a French official familiar with the internal conversations among ministries told POLITICO that “who pays is still under discussion” but most of the funds would be new money.

The lack of clarity reflects the ambiguous nature of the totals announced at such headline-grabbing pledging conferences. It also gives fodder to critics who say the event’s goals were rather nebulous, with significant differences between what various donors pledged and what constitutes new money.

Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg, meanwhile, clearly earmarked the bulk of her country’s pledge to vaccine development and distribution.

The EU, which hosted the event, pledged €1.4 billion, but officials acknowledged that this sum is entirely repurposed money from elsewhere in the bloc’s budget, along with €400 million in loan guarantees.

The €7.4 billion total also includes money put toward the coronavirus response since January 30 — and the Commission wasn’t eager to break down the total into new and old donations when asked by reporters this week.

A Commission spokesperson said it didn’t want to “punish” countries for allocating money earlier than the pledging conference. “We’re not asking the countries to explain what is new and what is not new,” the spokesperson said Thursday.

Most of the event’s other donors were national governments, which have strict budget rules as well as tender requirements and other restrictions on how public funds are spent. When faced with the hasty organization of the conference, they were pushed to make symbolic “pledges” before all the legal and administrative details had been worked out.

Macron has played a central role in championing a multilateral response — making a public show of support to the World Health Organization (WHO) when it has come under fire from Washington. He is also facing rising criticism at home for the domestic response to the pandemic, which has taken more than 25,000 lives.

As Macron explained it, France’s contribution would be composed of four parts, the first being a “substantial” increase in funding to the WHO over the next two years, up from $76 million for 2018 and 2019. The problem: To date, no one within the French government has been able to provide the new number.

There are also few details on the other three pillars: Accelerating the research and development of a coronavirus vaccine; ensuring equitable access to diagnostics and treatment; and supporting health care systems in vulnerable countries, namely in Africa.

Macron has played a central role in championing a multilateral response | Pool photo by Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

By contrast, some other donors have gone farther to explain their pledges.

For example, the independent London-based charity Wellcome Trust announced that in addition to an early pledge of $100 million to vaccines alliance CEPI, it will give another $50 million to a Therapeutics Accelerator, plus $26 million to support essential research and capacity building in low and middle-income countries.

Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg, meanwhile, clearly earmarked the bulk of her country’s pledge to vaccine development and distribution, as well as an additional small contribution to the WHO.

When pressed about the lack of concrete details, French officials highlighted the fact that Monday’s event brought about an unprecedented coordination and cooperation between the WHO, governments and NGOs in the global response to the coronavirus pandemic.

David M. Herszenhorn, Jillian Deutsch and Lili Bayer contributed reporting.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email for a complimentary trial.

Source : Politico EU More   

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