How the EU’s coronavirus response can work for people

Portrait of Aisha, community health promoter in Somalia

Aisha is one of Docoloha's (Somalia) community health promoters. Together with other women, she trains the community on hygiene, water and waste management. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a devastating health, economic and social toll around the world and threatens to push half a billion more people into poverty.

The virus is also reinforcing extreme inequality: developing countries and their people lack the health systems and resources necessary to address the crisis. Women are particularly affected, forming 70% of the world’s health workers at the frontline of the crisis response.

The European Union has a crucial opportunity to lead the way with ambitious political action to overcome the virus and an economic recovery in Europe and beyond that is green, fair and builds global resilience to future crises.

The EU must scale up and transform its aid to save lives

The EU should immediately and drastically scale up its aid to developing countries. The short-term response must focus on aiding public health systems and saving lives. Long-term, the EU should reshape their aid to tackle underlying inequality, the climate crisis and poverty, so poor countries can be prepared to tackle crises in the future.

The EU must also help fund a Global Public Health Plan and Emergency Response to immediately double health spending. This is a first step towards a Marshall Plan of USD 500 billion that the UN is calling for.

The EU must prioritise a fair and green economic recovery

With the European Union at the forefront, ambitious political action by our governments can help rebuild a fairer, greener economy. Oxfam advocates for increased tax justice, and it supports a new set of taxes on wealth, speculative financial transactions, and the most profitable corporations, as well as the mutualisation of debt and direct cash payments to citizens.

The next long-term EU budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and the coronavirus recovery fund are crucial opportunities to deliver EU development aid, but the agreement reached does not go far enough. An ambitious budget meets the challenges that both Europe and the world at large are facing. It is an opportunity to take a leading role in combatting poverty and inequality and leading the global recovery.

Tackle the climate crisis and prevent hunger

The economic recovery must integrate the objectives of the EU Green Deal to build a green, fair and sustainable world. People in vulnerable situations around the world are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis and the pandemic. The EU must commit to reduce its emissions reduction by at least 65 per cent by 2030 and increase its support for people affected by the climate crisis.

The pandemic is endangering already-fragile food systems. The EU must provide emergency food aid and support small-scale farmers who are critical to prevent hunger in developing countries. We also call on the EU to overhaul its food system for one that is fairer, resilient and respects human rights, through mandatory human rights due diligence legislation.

People in refugee camps and conflict-struck zones in urgent need of EU support

People trapped in often overcrowded refugee camps in Greece and in conflict-struck areas often lack adequate access to health services, running water and toilets. This makes it impossible for them to keep social distance and heightens the risk of an uncontrolled spread of COVID-19.

The fire in the Moria camp in Lesbos has exposed the failed EU ‘hotspot’ approach and should trigger an immediate U-turn in the EU’s and Greece’s response to migration. The new camp in Lesbos is even worse than the original Moria camp and provides insufficient protection against the coronavirus. Greece and the other EU governments must work together to relocate more people seeking asylum to other safe places in Europe and providing residents of refugee camps with access to at least basic healthcare.

Oxfam also supports the call of the United Nations’ Secretary-General for a global ceasefire. The EU’s humanitarian response must involve local organisations and first-responders, in particular women and women-led organisations, and support their access to critical information and to conflict areas.