The Brief, powered by APPLiA – Common good

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

The swiftly-spreading coronavirus forces all of us to take a reality-check and face the ugly truth. It also forces us to adapt and change our behaviour for the common good. Because this is what it is all about. This is what is at stake.

Disruption is one of the few things that can bring the most stubborn to act, as US President Donald Trump demonstrated last night. While he is using his favourite political tool – fortressing the United States a little more and turning the European Union into his favourite scapegoat – he will have to face the ugly truth, sooner rather than later.

The US is one of the few countries in the world with no federal legislation for paid sick leave. Low paid workers working in the service industries just cannot afford not going to work.

Yet, these are the people who are the most likely to be in contact with other people – just think of staffs in restaurants and hotels. Not to mention a failing health care infrastructure.

Some in the US are provided health insurance from their employer, but this is not the case for many of these shift workers. Those who are uninsured have to pay the full, and high, amount for any health expenses out of pocket. This includes coronavirus testing.

But Europe should not be overwhelmed with Schadenfreude.

The coronavirus reveals a European reality that is not pretty to see either: schools without soap or paper towels and toilets with deplorable sanitary conditions, poorly equipped and seriously undermanned hospitals, with overworked staff who are nevertheless completely dedicated to their tasks.

Perhaps the best example is found in France, where François Salachas, a neurologist at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital, told President Emmanuel Macron that he can count on the medical staff but that “the opposite remains to be proven.”

Today, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) called for paid sick leave for all workers across Europe „as the coronavirus exposes the danger to public health posed by the cuts made to sick pay by member states“, the organisation said.

It quoted figures from the European Commission that show the majority of member states have reduced spending on sickness benefits since the 2008 financial crisis.

Twenty-two member states spent less per person on sickness benefits in the five years following the financial crisis compared to the five years prior to the crisis. The ETUC underlined that the biggest cuts came in countries hit hardest by austerity: Greece (-7.2% per year), Spain (-2.3%), Cyprus (-1.9%), Ireland (-0.9%) and Italy (0.5%).

Now that our personal health and wallets are under imminent threat, the closest thing to a positive development from the coronavirus crisis may be how citizens and governments are forced to react swiftly, adequately and in solidarity – for the sake of the people, not only the economy.

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The Roundup

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Europe’s airlines – already struggling because of the coronavirus outbreak – are expected to be hard hit by US President Donald Trump’s 11 March ban on flights from the Schengen area. EU heads were left fuming by the unilateral decision.

The European Commission is planning to re-open basically all files related to the pharmaceutical industry with its roadmap for a new Pharmaceutical Strategy.

Norway has cancelled its major military exercise in Europe over coronavirus concerns as a “precautionary measure”, while Washington is considering reduced US troop involvement in this year’s European war games amid the spread of the virus outbreak.

The European Space Agency and its Russian partner, Roscosmos, announced that a planned mission to Mars will be postponed, blaming it on a mixture of technical gremlins and the coronavirus outbreak.

Representatives from the US tech industry hit out at the UK’s plans to introduce a digital services tax from the beginning of April, following a period of uncertainty as to whether the UK would continue with the measures amid attempts to contract a US trade deal.

EU environment chief Virginijus Sinkevičius insists there will be no unnecessary overlap between the new circular economy plan and the Farm to Fork strategy, as new EU food policy will be focused more on the agricultural and food production side.

Views are the author’s

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