The European Parliament (EP) gave the green light on Thursday to the use of two budget items to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the European territories most affected by the outbreak, thus guaranteeing the availability of up to 37.8 billion euros from the European coffers .
Gathered in an extraordinary session that was originally scheduled for next week, the European Parliament also approved a temporary suspension of the aircraft’s take-off and landing permit system (“slots”) to avoid phantom flights.
The Brussels proposal to allocate 37,000 million euros of cohesion policy to the fight against the coronavirus came out ahead with 683 votes in favor, one against and four abstentions, with which the European Parliament endorses the use of this budget line to support to the health sector, the labor market and to support SMEs in all affected sectors.
The Commission’s proposal included the cancellation of the obligation for the EU countries to reimburse the amount of the structural funds that they did not use in 2019, which amounts to 8,000 million euros that they should have returned before June of this year and will now mean an extra liquidity that Member States can use to invest in the fight against the outbreak.
According to data from the European Commission, taking into account the average co-financing rate of the EU countries, these eight million will be combined with around 29,000 million co-financing from the EU budget to mobilize a total of 37,000 million euros.
On the other hand, the MEPs approved by 671 votes in favor, three against and 14 abstentions that public health emergencies are included among the circumstances that can trigger the help of the European Union Solidarity Fund.
Originally, this fund was intended to mitigate the impact of natural disasters, such as floods, forest fires, earthquakes, storms and droughts, and has provided Member States with € 5 billion in support after it was launched in 2002.
With the Commission’s proposal to amend the causes that make it possible to activate this fund, the situation generated by the COVID-19 outbreak falls within the assumptions included in this item.
According to Parliament data, this will make an additional € 800 million available to EU countries.
Finally, the MEPs gave the green light by 686 votes in favor, zero against and two abstentions to the temporary elimination of the system of permits to land and take off in a specific time slot (slots), which forces companies to use at least 80% of the frequencies assigned to them for takeoff and landing.
As the consequence of not using them is to lose them in the following season, airlines have been operating empty flights, known as “phantom flights”, in full swing of travel restrictions due to the pandemic, with many countries preventing the entry of specific nationalities and a general recommendation to avoid non-essential travel.
A PRACTICALLY REMOTE FULL
Only about forty MEPs attended the session in Brussels in person due to the health and movement restrictions imposed by the coronavirus outbreak, which now totals more than 200,000 infections and 10,000 deaths in Europe, but the unprecedented implementation of a system of Remote voting allowed the almost telematic approval of the three proposals.
MEPs received in their personal emails a document to print, fill out by hand and digitize, scanning or taking a photograph of the paper, which they then sent to the general secretary of the Eurochamber for the count, a process that had been tried in previous days .
Sources from various Spanish delegations highlighted to Efe the normality with which the vote had been carried out and the “success” that 97% of the members pronounced themselves the first time that they had been tested during a plenary session, although some parties They indicated that they are “open to change” if the technical services of the Eurochamber see it as necessary.
IU MEP Sira Rego, for her part, added that the European Parliament “cannot not be prepared for situations of this type” and warned that the need for telematic voting is “more recurrent than it may seem”, as for example before a loss after having a child.
“In the end they have come to the conclusion that the best system was this of the manuscript, which is still a bit medieval. It is not necessary to give it much more thought, the important thing today was the measures that are going to be implemented”, stressed Efe.
According to parliamentary sources, this system will be used in one or two more plenary sessions while the Parliament’s administration explores new modalities that allow Parliament to continue exercising its legislative function.