The European Commission has unfurled a giant banner at its Berlaymont headquarters hailing the “coronavirus global response” — but the world leaders it wants help from on Monday won’t be there in person to see it.
Ursula von der Leyen, the EU executive branch’s president, will instead orchestrate an online pandemic pledging drive supported by the G20 that aims to raise €7.5bn to boost testing, treatment and the development and worldwide distribution of a vaccine.
It is a big test for the EU and its eight event co-chairs, which include Japan, Canada and G20 presidency holder Saudi Arabia. At stake are multilateral efforts to relieve the health emergency at a time of fraying relations between some powerful states. Also in the spotlight is the EU’s credibility as an international force to deal with the pandemic, in the face of its members’ domestic crises and its own internal divisions.
Ms Von der Leyen — herself a doctor with a masters in public health — has a lot riding on the event personally. She sold the idea to the G20 after receiving a call proposing it from Victor Dzau, president of the US National Academy of Medicine — and an old friend from when she and her husband were based at Stanford, California, almost three decades ago.The pledging event is part of a wider initiative to combat the pandemic launched by the World Health Organization last month.
Supporters of the Brussels fundraiser say the arguments for it are not limited to the powerful moral case to save lives. If a vaccine can mitigate months or even years of global economic damage, then it may end up more than paying for itself. European leaders have also made very public commitments to help poorer countries fight the crisis.
EU officials say Ms von der Leyen has put in dozens of calls to world leaders over the past days, with donations now lined up from many countries in the G20 and beyond. There are also likely to be some high-profile absentees: as of Sunday, the US had shown no inclination to join.
As with all such funding pushes, the results will have to be carefully parsed, particularly as the window for donations runs from January 30 to late May. Some countries may reannounce money already committed. Others may stay quiet on Monday and give later, once they have the necessary sign-off from cabinets or parliaments.
Whatever happens on Monday, much more will be needed to achieve the titanic programme of production and distribution needed for universal access to a vaccine, should one be found. There will be questions and conflicts over how money is raised, allocated and accounted for.
The Berlaymont banner’s proclamation is just a starting gun. To come is what Ms von der Leyen has called the “real marathon” needed to beat the virus that has shaken the world.
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Pandemic news round-up
EU state aid row
EU regulators are planning to relax state aid rules even further but now find themselves caught up in an increasingly hard-fought pan-European row over whether wealthy member states are obtaining an unfair advantage. Germany, for instance, represents more than 50 per cent of state aid approved by the EU during the pandemic, triggering objections from poorer countries such as Spain that government bailouts were skewing the single market. An update from Brussels on tackling injections of equity and hybrid debt by countries is expected to be published as soon as this week. (FT)
The EU and the euro face an existential threat unless member states agreed to pool debts to finance post-pandemic reconstruction, argues French finance minister Bruno Le Maire. (Libération)
Days after Beijing announced it was sending urgent medical supplies to Italy in its hour of need, Chinese state media showed Italians on their balconies and in the streets applauding the Chinese national anthem. But two Italian fact-checking and manipulation experts raised concerns about their authenticity, adding to wider anxiety about Chinese disinformation in Europe. (FT)
Josep Borrell, EU foreign policy chief, has meanwhile branded the bloc “a little naive” in its relations with China. Mr Borrell told Le Journal du Dimanche China was a strategic partner that shared some objectives with the EU. But he said Beijing practised “selective multilateralism” founded on “a different understanding of the international order”. He also criticised President Donald Trump’s “zero sum” approach to international relations and said declarations by the US leader must always be treated with caution.
A wave of online fraud during the coronavirus crisis including scams linked to masks and other pandemic equipment has exposed an urgent need for law enforcement authorities to work better across borders, EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson has warned. (FT)
Elsewhere in Europe
Investors, politicians and campaigners have hit out at EU regulators’ “ludicrous” exclusion of oil and gas from a definition of fossil fuels, arguing it will lead asset managers to understate their environmental risks. (FT)
FT Middle East editor Andrew England reports on how trafficking and other mistreatment of migrants in Libya raises questions about EU activities in the war-torn country, including support for its coastguard. (FT)