Europe takes steps to ease critical supply shortages.

RB – 03/2020

The lack of medical protective equipment such as masks, protective clothing and gloves is hampering the fight against the new strain of coronavirus. Almost all Member States are desperately trying to get hold of supplies and equipment. Supplying medical personnel with personal protective equipment (PPE) is currently one of the biggest logistical challenges in the EU internal market. After days of uncoordinated action by all European governments and institutions, the European Commission has decided to coordinate the response. ‘We must pull each other through this,’ said Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on 26 March at a special session of the European Parliament. Going it alone would contradict the values of the European Union.

To support the Member States with their growing need for PPE for health workers, the European Commission has put in place the following measures:

rescEU stockpile of medical equipment

A strategic ‘rescEU stockpile’ of medical equipment will be set up to help EU Member States combat the spread of COVID-19 and treat patients. The stockpile includes items such as intensive care equipment (e.g. ventilators), PPE for healthcare workers, vaccines and therapeutics, and laboratory supplies.

The stockpile will be hosted by one or more Member States, with EU countries volunteering to help with procuring and storing the equipment. The Commission will finance up to 90% of the value of the stockpile. The Emergency Response Coordination Centre will decide how to distribute the equipment. The criteria according to which this is to be done are still to be determined, but it can be assumed that the equipment will initially be used where it is most needed in the EU. Initially, a budget of €50 million will be made available. Of this, €40 million must be approved by the EU budgetary authorities. The measure entered into force on 20 March 2020.

Coordinated procurement of medical equipment

A further measure that should ease the critical supply shortage of personal protective equipment in the foreseeable future is the joint procurement of necessary supplies. The EU Commission had already started centrally procuring masks on February 28. The range of PPE to be jointly procured has now been expanded to include type 2 and 3 masks, gloves, protective goggles, face-shields, surgical masks and protective overalls. According to the European Commission, the joint initiative has been a success, with manufacturers offering supplies that cover, and in some cases even exceed, the quantities requested by the Member States. The equipment should be available within two weeks of Member States signing contracts with producers.

The lifting of export bans in China and the resumption of production should also have a positive effect in Europe.

Export authorisation for personal protective equipment

In order to meet the increased demand for vital personal protective equipment within the European Union due to the spread of the coronavirus, the EU Commission has introduced restrictions on the export of certain products. Amendments to the Guidance for Implementing Regulation 2020/402 on the mandatory production of an export authorisation for personal protective equipment (PPE) came into force on March 21, 2020. Manufacturers are not allowed to export products such as protective goggles and visors, face-shields, mouth-nose protective equipment, protective clothing and gloves from the EU without a permit from the competent authorities. The Implementing Regulation does not apply to member states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) – Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland – or to Andorra, San Marino and Vatican City due to their particular dependency. These measures also serve to preserve supply chains within the European internal market.