This is how the EU wants to prevent the Covid chaos from repeating itself

Covid has cost many lives. And when the pandemic started two and a half years ago, it initially looked as if solidarity between the EU countries and the common internal market would also be among the first victims: member states such as Germany banned the export of protective masks and other equipment to neighboring countries. Border crossings were closed in an uncoordinated manner, leading to kilometers of traffic jams, for example on the German-Polish border. Trucks carrying supplies to supermarkets were stuck in the chaos.

In order to prevent such a disaster in the next major crisis, the commission will present a legislative proposal in two weeks. It bears the name “Emergency instrument for the internal market“, abbreviated to SMEI in English. On the one hand, this regulation is intended to ensure that Member States are better prepared, and on the other hand, restrictions on the movement of goods and people should be avoided as far as possible after the outbreak of a crisis. A 68-page draft is available from the Süddeutsche Zeitung before, and it contains explosive details.

It is no wonder that Brussels wants to protect the internal market better, because it is the economic heart of the European Union. Thanks to common rules, companies can sell their goods in other EU countries just as easily as in their home country; Citizens can live and work abroad. It is all the more painful when governments then close the borders again in their desperation. Supply chains tear up, cross-border commuters don’t come to the office.

The new instrument stipulates that the Commission draws up a list of strategically important goods and services that could become scarce during the crisis – be it a pandemic, a war like the one in Ukraine now, or a natural disaster. The authority is to set up an early warning system and be on the lookout for threats that could affect Europe’s supply or the functioning of the internal market. If a threat is in sight, the alert level is called. The commission would then ask the 27 governments to build emergency stocks of strategic goods, such as medical protective clothing. If a country does not meet the requirements, the request can become a mandatory instruction.

Governments are not allowed to impose export bans

If the situation escalates, the emergency level comes into effect. It even allows the commission to ask companies to switch their manufacturing and produce more strategic goods. If the management refuses, the authority should be able to force the companies in exceptional cases. At the same time, governments are prohibited from banning the export of such products to other EU countries. If governments restrict entry from other EU countries in health crises, they should issue generous special rules for business people and cross-border commuters. Trucks should not be impeded and supply chains should not be disrupted. There is already approval from the European Parliament: “The proposal is an important contribution that is intended to ensure that the EU remains functional even in crisis mode,” says CDU MP Andreas Schwab, the internal market expert for the Christian Democratic EPP group.

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