European Union seeks wide-ranging powers to tackle emergencies
Alex Cadier
The European Commisson wants to help countries cope with scenarios like the COVID pandemic. /Yves Herman/Reuters

The European Commisson wants to help countries cope with scenarios like the COVID pandemic. /Yves Herman/Reuters

The European Union (EU) wants to better equip itself to tackle crises and emergencies head-on, having drawn lessons from the bloc's initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The European Commission has put forward a number of proposals that would allow it, in times of crisis, to mobilize companies to shift their production and stockpile 'crucial' products to help the bloc better respond to emergencies. 

The proposals would also allow the EU to prevent member states using export bans in times of crisis and ensure that cross-border workers will be exempt from border closures. 

The reforms are designed to avoid a repeat of the bloc's initial response to COVID-19, where member states stockpiled essential supplies, threatened export bans and closed borders, meaning cross-border workers weren't able to travel to work. 

"The COVID-19 crisis showed us that our single market is not perfect," said Margrethe Vestager, European Commission Executive Vice-President. 

"It's strong, but not unbreakable. Unilateral measures taken by member states and lack of transparency damaged the free movement of supplies when we most needed it. 

"And this of course, increased the shortages of crisis-relevant goods that were in high demand."

Asked whether or not the move took the EU closer to a planned economy model, Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, made it clear that this was not the idea behind the policy.

"This has absolutely nothing to do with a planned economy," he said. "I know that a few months ago some member states wrote a letter about this when we started working on this [...] And you could read it carefully, there is nothing related to this kind of fear."

However, business leaders have already criticized the move, saying it will render the bloc less competitive. 

"This type of crisis policy is a no-go because it permanently damages the reputation of Europe as a place to do business and damages the competitiveness of European companies," Thilo Brodtmann, General Manager of VDMA, a mechanical engineering trade body, said in a statement. 

Despite criticisms, the move shows a willingness on the part of EU leaders to learn from past mistakes and have an ever-increasing direct impact on the lives of European citizens.

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