EU COVID-19 Update: Brussels Warns of Looming Social Crisis, Second Wave & ‚Mini-Schengens‘

Written by | Friday, May 22nd, 2020

The economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic has hit the European economy hard, but not equally across all countries and sectors, and the fragmentation could lead to a social crisis, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit warned on Wednesday (20 May). The Commissioner warned during the presentation the European Semester Spring Package that certain sectors, companies and citizens are more affected than others and there is therefore “a risk that this crisis will become a social crisis.” Schmit underlined that combating unemployment “should be our main priority,” and welcomed the Council’s recent decision to adopt SURE, the instrument the Commission tabled to support financially countries being forced to set up temporary unemployment schemes to keep people in work. The Commission underlined that some minority groups face greater difficulties in accessing the labour market as well as social protection in times of crisis. “More than 30 million persons are on temporary or partial unemployment,” the Commissioner said, referring mainly to migrants, people with disabilities, members of the Roma community and young people.
The prospect of a second wave of coronavirus infection across Europe is no longer a distant theory, according to the director of the EU agency responsible for advising governments – including the UK – on disease control. “The question is when and how big, that is the question in my view”, says Dr Andrea Ammon, Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). While politicians have been caught offering empty reassurances, the epidemiologists, a job description fresh to many, have emerged as the straight shooters of the crisis, sometimes to their detriment. “…the virus is around us, circulating much more than January and February … I don’t want to draw a doomsday picture but I think we have to be realistic. That it’s not the time now to completely relax,” Ammon has warned.
Meanwhile, speaking with the media about the future of Europe’s border-free travel Schengenzone after the unprecedented move by EU member states in March to seal borders, European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said that “there is no way that returning to Schengen normality from the existing restrictions in our internal borders should be replaced by some sort of regional mini-Schengens that fragment our single market and discriminate against the non-participating member states.” EU Commission has made some precise recommendations but it’s up to the member states to decide how and when they will implement these. Thus, according to Schinas, “we do not think that this is the Commission’s job to dictate from Brussels, one size fits all approach given a date that suits everybody. When it comes to opening up the tourism and travel and hospitality areas, there is no room for discrimination and every measure taken has to be based on our guidelines and has to be non-discriminatory in nature.“

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