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Commissioner Urpilainen: EU must beef up crisis response

Jutta Urpilainen says that EU states failed to help Italy enough because they were too focused on their own concerns.

Kuvassa on Jutta Urpilainen Ylen studiossa.
Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

The European Union must learn from the coronavirus pandemic and create clear operational models for future crises facing the continent, says European Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen. The former finance minister now oversees the EU’s international partnerships.

Urpilainen was interviewed on the Yle TV1 current affairs programme Ykkösaamu on Saturday. The annual Europe Day this year marked the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War on the continent.

She says the European Commission was surprised by the speed and extent to which the novel coronavirus moved from China to Europe, despite having closely monitored developments there.

EU lacks response framework

Covid-19 first struck Italy, which asked for help from other member states – largely in vain. Urpilainen says that the other EU states did not help Italy enough because they did not have time or resources to look beyond their own borders.

The situation made it clear that the EU did not have a crisis framework for coping with a pandemic, says Urpilainen.

As she sees it, news of the explosive spread of the virus in Italy caused a gut reaction in other EU countries.

“They started to hoard protective gear and thinking ‘oh no, what if the situation progresses in the same way in our own country and society?’. In that situation, each one just concentrated on their own society and their own citizens,” Urpilainen said.

Lessons must be learned

According to Urpilainen, the EU must learn from this crisis. After the situation is under control, there must be a careful study of what happened in its early stages and what lessons can be drawn.

She notes that security of supply and healthcare are up to each EU member country, and that each has its own systems and approaches.

However the Union has taken steps during the pandemic to improve coordination, she said. For example, some patients have been transferred from Italy to Germany for care, and healthcare workers from elsewhere in the EU have gone to Italy, and some protective gear has been shared.

Former Social Democratic Party chair Urpilainen was Finland’s Finance Minister in 2011-14. She joined the European Commission five months ago.

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