Activation of the Emergency Support Instrument to support healthcare sector during the COVID-19 pandemic

In “Budgets - BUDG”

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For a brief overview of the key points of the adopted text and its significance for the citizen, please see the corresponding summary note.

On 2 April 2020, as part of the EU response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Commission proposed to activate the Emergency Support Instrument. Created in 2016, at the peak of the refugee crisis, and then equipped with a budget of €650 million for three years, the instrument has proved useful and relevant as a rapid and flexible tool in emergency situations. As emphasised by the Commission in the proposal for the regulation, given the severe humanitarian consequences and the scope of the social, economic and financial impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic, the tool was also suitable to apply in the current situation.

Activation of this emergency assistance was based on Article 122 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and required the adoption of a Council regulation on the provision of emergency support within the Union (Council Regulation 2016/369 of 15 March 2016) with some provisions amended in respect of the COVID-19 outbreak. The activation procedure was completed on 14 April 2020 (Council Regulation (EU) 2020/521). Despite the contribution to this instrument from the EU budget, the decision on its activation was taken by the Council alone, without Parliament's involvement. The creation of such an ad hoc mechanism with strong links to the EU budget but without full observance of Parliament's prerogatives as co-legislator was previously criticised when the Emergency Support Instrument was first used to address the refugee crisis (EP resolution of 13 April 2016).

On 17 April 2020 the European Parliament voted the Commission’s proposal for financing the Emergency Support Instrument. Based on the Amending Budget 2/2020, the instrument was endowed with resources amounting to €2.7 bln in commitment appropriations and €1.38 bln in payment appropriations under heading 3 Security and citizenship of the 2014-2020 MFF. As there were no available margins left nor possibilities for redeployment, the flexibility and last resort MFF mechanisms had to be mobilsed to finance the allocation.

The Emergency Support Instrument will support the public healthcare sector in the Member States. It enables the EU to provide an immediate response to exceptional crises or disasters with severe humanitarian consequences. Its general objective is to address urgent humanitarian needs and support operations to preserve life. Thanks to this instrument, by taking coordinated action and providing financial means, the EU will assist the national administrations in managing the ongoing health emergency and its aftermath, including through:

  • wider and faster stock-piling and coordination of essential resource distribution across Europe;
  • import and transport of protective gear across the EU;
  • cross-border transport of patients to hospitals;
  • cross-border cooperation to alleviate the pressure on health systems in the most affected EU regions;
  • central procurement and distribution of essential medical supplies to hospitals and emergency supply of protective gear for hospital staff, such as respirators, ventilators, personal protective equipment, reusable masks, medicines, therapeutics, and laboratory supplies and disinfectants;
  • improvement of production capacities of EU enterprises to ensure rapid production and deployment of essential equipment, products, medicines and material needed to urgently address supply shortages;
  • support for the construction of temporary field hospitals and converted facilities;
  • increasing the production of testing kits and support for acquiring key basic substances;
  • boosting the swift development of medication and testing methods;
  • developing, purchasing and distributing testing supplies (testing kits, reagents, hardware).

These actions will be complemented by the reinforced (€80 million in March and €300 million in April) Union Civil Protection Mechanism (rescEU). The Mechanism facilitates joint procurement and purchase of necessary equipment on behalf of the Member States.

The Emergency Support Instrument was activated for a period of two years as of 1 February 2020 (grants could be awarded retroactively). Apart from the financing requested under DAB 2/2020, the resources dedicated to the instrument can be complemented by direct contributions from the national and regional authorities, foundations, individual donations and crowdfunding. The instrument also applies to the United Kingdom, currently in the transition period under its EU withdrawal agreement, within the EU budget for 2020.


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Author: Magdalena Sapala, Members' Research Service,

As of 20/03/2023.