“My business received help thanks to the EU”

Isabel Kept her business alive thanks to EU help Spain, Cabo de Palos

On 13 March the Spanish region of Murcia closed its borders to try and contain the spread of coronavirus. With that very necessary step came a complete and sudden halt to the tourist industry on which the area thrives. As the owner of a diving centre, Isabel Laguardia was particularly hard hit. She had to close the centre and put on hold all her plans to employ staff for the usually busy Easter holiday and summer season. The EU acted quickly to help protect small businesses like Isabel’s. New legislation made the rules on state aid more flexible. The Spanish government can now offer businesses financial support more quickly so they can avoid laying off staff during the coronavirus outbreak. Such rules enable Member States to take swift and effective action to support citizens and companies, in particular small businesses, facing economic difficulties due to COVID-19. All Member States will be able to set up schemes to grant up to EUR 800 000 to a company to address its urgent needs.

“We help entrepreneurs whose operations have been fundamentally disrupted by the COVID-19 health crisis”

Claudine Launched the #JobSwitch platform with her colleagues at the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce Luxembourg, Luxembourg

While some companies had to close down due to COVID-19, others were overwhelmed by demand. To balance these needs, Claudine and her colleagues at the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce launched the #JobSwitch platform. “We had a dedicated hotline for businesses. We answered their concerns, provided them with information in real time, and provided a tool that enabled staff from a workplace that had closed to take on employment with another business that was short of staff,” Claudine explains. Running until the end of April, the platform was a great success. Some 1 400 candidates applied, and over 500 people found new jobs. Besides #JobSwitch, the Chamber of Commerce also launched a support programme for entrepreneurs, along with a bank guarantee for businesses in financial difficulty.

“Let us sing. Especially now!”

Matthias Organises online choir sessions for all those wanting to sing along Germany, Regensburg

Nothing distracts better than music. So, why not make the most of the lockdown and sing a few songs? Cantemus-TV has been providing this opportunity to the people of Regensburg and beyond for the past few months. “As leader of the Cantemus choir Regensburg, I wanted to provide people of all ages with an opportunity to express themselves through music,” Matthias explains. “That’s why we created our online ‘Cantemus-TV’: to invite children, young people and families to sing along. We believe that singing can fight boredom and alleviate worries, all while creating a warm atmosphere and instilling confidence.” Cantemus-TV invites viewers to actively participate in sessions from choir members, as well as to submit their own artistic contributions. According to Matthias, it is a whole new way of experiencing community and solidarity.

“We continue to guarantee the safety and quality of life of people with disabilities”

Ioannis Guarantees the protection of people with disabilities in Greece Greece, Athens

The National Confederation of Disabled People (NCDP) has represented people with disabilities and chronic diseases since 1989. They continue to keep member organisations updated on government measures for people with disabilities, and it would have taken much more than COVID-19 to prevent them from doing their job. “We remained fully operational following the Ministry of Health’s ‘We stay at home’ campaign. Our staff began working from home and responding to telephone enquiries every day,” says Ioannis. With his colleagues, Ioannis made concrete proposals to the Prime Minister, relevant ministers, members of Parliament, and even regional and local authorities, taking into account the new challenges faced by people with disabilities. To this day, their goals remain unchanged: protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, chronic diseases and their families, guaranteeing their safety and quality of life.

“Our employees and volunteers are doing their utmost to assist members and all those in need”

Kinga Provides Hungarian families with help and guidance to overcome the economic consequences of the crisis Hungary, Budapest

The National Association of Large Families in Hungary (Winner of the European Citizen's Prize of the European Parliament in 2018) has been working hard to help families withstand the economic consequences of the outbreak. “We keep our member families updated on legal advice and discounts. We also provide guidance on mental wellbeing, financial difficulties, and problems related to home schooling.” The association, which has received charitable help from various companies across the country, also ran a photo contest in April. It encouraged families to portray moments in their lockdown life spent together.

“We need solidarity and coordination amongst civil society organisations”

Baiba Suggested emergency measures to the Latvian government to help cover basic expenses for those in need Latvia, Riga

How do you get on with life after COVID-19 if you lost your job or saw your wages drastically cut? To help citizens deal with such situations, the Latvian National Association for Consumer Protection has been suggesting emergency measures to the Latvian government. “We pushed for citizens who couldn’t provide for their basic needs to receive a crisis benefit. Half of their expenses will be reimbursed,” says Baiba. “We’ve also been involved in the decision to provide debt relief opportunities for consumers, as well as delay tax payments, and vulnerable consumers can now apply for a heating allowance.” Baiba is also a member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). She stresses that the post-COVID-19 period will call for a strong and stable EESC, with knowledgeable members fully committed to representing the interests of civil society organisations.

“Our role was to turn business needs into concrete policy proposals”

Tellervo Provided the Finnish government with proposals to help save jobs Finland, Helsinki

Industry trade associations played a very important role during the COVID-19 outbreak. In Finland, this role was tackled head on by the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK). “Our role consisted of providing the public sector with proposals and assistance, such as emergency measures to save businesses and jobs,” says Tellervo Kylä-Harraka-Ruonala, member of EK and of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). “To ensure that we were always up to speed with what businesses were going through, we conducted on the ground surveys.” Examples of proposal submitted by EK include a roadmap for lifting restrictions, as well as a list of companies able to produce protective equipment in Finland. EK also prepared – together with its branch organisations – a set of good practices for its member companies. They explain the safe return to workplaces, safe provision of services, and safe transport practices.

“We show solidarity across the border and support Strasbourg healthcare workers”

Klaus Initiated a donation campaign for hospitals in Kehl and Strasbourg Germany, Kehl

If COVID-19 was a shock to those who lived and worked near or across borders, it was also a test for long-standing cross-border initiatives. Take the Kehl Civic Foundation for instance. For many years, it has dedicated itself to intensive dialogue and cooperation between Kehl and one of its closest neighbours: the French city of Strasbourg. So, was the foundation forced to go on a hiatus following the closure of the France-Germany border? Not quite. “We wanted to send a positive solidarity signal across borders while helping those working day and night to improve our health. That’s why we initiated a large donation campaign to support the hospital staff of the Kehl Hospital and the University Hospital of Strasbourg,” explains Klaus, a member of the Foundation. By the end of the campaign, the Kehl Civic Foundation had sent EUR 4 500 to each hospital. The donations will help support nursing staff in their daily work.

“Maintaining social peace should be the goal of every government”

Martina Supports measures to save jobs in Slovakia Slovakia, Bratislava

COVID-19 severely impacted job security all across Europe, but people like Martina are working hard to support those most affected. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, her association has been highlighting the need for rapid action to help employers and entrepreneurs in difficulty, promoting and supporting those aiming to save jobs or reinforce companies. “Our common goal should be to maintain employment as much as possible,” she explains. “The threat of massive redundancies has never been so high and real. This is why we want social dialogue in Slovakia, which should be enabled at the national level.” Supporting employment is one of the objectives of the Next Generation EU recovery plan. It foresees EUR 31 billion in guarantees to provide European companies in the most affected sectors, regions, and countries with loans.

“I still fear for my restaurant but I'm not giving up”

Antoine Doing his best to revive his restaurant while dealing with social distancing measures Spain, Valencia

Salad Planet is a snack bar striving to provide customers with healthy, fresh and local products. Its “salad bar” concept has been an instant success. It quickly became a place to be for the people of Valencia. For Antoine, owner of Salad Planet, the lockdown was the worst thing that could happen. “Following the outbreak I was forced to close my restaurant from 15 March to 10 May. My employee and myself had no choice but to apply for temporary unemployment benefits,” he recalls. Reopening the restaurant hasn’t been a walk in the park either. First relying on takeaway only, the restaurant could finally open its doors again. It started with a terrace at 50 % capacity and then with the restaurant itself, which currently runs with 30 % occupancy. “Salad Planet is at the centre of Valencia’s business quarters, so I’ve lost most of my regular clientele who will be teleworking until September. I’m still working on my own as we speak, as my employee is still under temporary employment,” Antoine says.

“We've always been committed to the fight against social inequality”

Team "QuestaèRoma'' Rolled out a video campaign with instructions on how to comply with anti COVID-19 measures Italy, Rome

In the early days of the Italian lockdown, confusion often prevailed. Government instructions weren’t always clear and changed so quickly that some struggled to adapt. Cultural and Sport Association QuestaéRoma (This is Rome) was quick to realise this and decided to support the people who needed clearer explanations. “Our association has always been committed to the fight against social inequality. We organise campaigns, cultural and musical events, putting so-called ‘social minorities’ in the spotlight. When we saw what was happening with COVID-19, we decided it was essential to produce usable and understandable information for all,” the team explains. QuestaéRoma ended up producing a video campaign in Italian detailing the rules to follow. Thanks to help from volunteers, the video was translated in several languages including Wolof, English, French, Albanian and Romanian. It received much positive feedback across Italy.

“Seniors live alone, and it’s very important for them to have somebody show interest”

Aleksandra, Monika and Agata Connect with older people facing isolation Poland, Lublin

Young Polish volunteers, using their time to support their elders: this is what “Recipe for Help” is all about. Kick-started by the Lublin branch of the Polish Red Cross, the initiative encourages volunteers to call seniors across the region, offering friendly conversations and even additional help depending on each person's needs and requirements. “I feel that there is a great need for that kind of support,” says Aleksandra, a young volunteer. “Seniors can talk with us for hours about their past and values. I think this goes even beyond the COVID-19 situation: seniors like to spend time with younger people and share their experiences.” Older people have been very thankful for the initiative as it demonstrates how a few simple gestures or “ingredients” can strengthen communities. As the local branch of the Polish Red Cross puts it, “a glass of safety, two spoons of knowledge, a pinch of good will, and a few drops of time, make a huge difference during the COVID-19 pandemic.”