Andrey Kovatchev, MEP (EPP/GERB): I believe we will overcome the pandemic

The lessons from this crisis must be learned, it may give us an opportunity to develop new sectors of the economy

Nowadays medicine has advanced, and hopefully we will be able to reduce to a minimum the number of victims and damages, and we will quickly find the solution, says Andrey Kovachev in an interview to Europost.

Mr Kovatchev, the European countries are strongly affected by the coronavirus crisis. The EC expressed its willingness to provide additional finances but how will it help the affected countries and how timely are these actions?

Let us first make it clear that we can never be prepared for everything that may happen to us these days. No matter if it is a pandemic or some other cataclysm. However, having in mind the progress of modern science, we can adapt to a given change much more quickly. As you know, a vaccine for treatment of Covid-19 is being sought intensively. But we all live within a Union built on solidarity, and we want to demonstrate exactly this to the countries which have been most affected by the pandemic. So, now there are two courses of action. The first is to contain the disease and save human lives. To that end we must take all possible measures. The second priority is to support the European economy, especially the sectors which suffered the most severe blows from the crisis. These are transport, tourism, services and restaurant businesses. That is why the EC has provided €1bn to the European Investment Fund earmarked for credit lines for small and medium-sized enterprises. The EU programmes are being redistributed and will be implemented with a view to overcoming the crisis. We are talking about €812m of Euro funds.

What will the European Parliament undertake in the meanwhile?

It has been decided for the next session to be held on 26 March at 10am. But it will be held remotely, for the first time voting will be by email. The EP staffers will not travel in order to avoid exposing their health to risk; and we, in turn, would like to send two important messages to people. First, that the institution is functioning and performing its duties. We will vote three resolutions. And second, we'll show that we don't want to expose anyone to risk.

How would you describe the current situation in Brussels?

Precautionary measures have been introduced as of 18 March and will be effective until 5 April. People will have to stay at home and leave it only to go to a pharmacy or grocery store. In case of emergency, they can also go to a hospital. The aim is to curb the spread of infection. Those who cannot work from home will have to keep two-metre distance from each other at their offices.

Already several months ago the recession was widely discussed. Now we are facing an even greater challenge - will the European economy collapse?

The pandemic is a global issue and it will affect not only Europe. As soon as possible, we must help businesses recover, and we must learn the lessons from this crisis. Maybe we will have an opportunity for developing new sectors of the economy, let's be prepared better for it. We cannot be 100% ready for such cataclysms but looking back we see that such things happened in our history before. The plaque and the Spanish influenza took a toll of millions. Nowadays medicine has advanced, and hopefully we will be able to reduce to a minimum the number of victims and damages, and we will quickly find the solution. You know that following a Member States' decision, the EC allocated €80m to a company that will be developing a vaccine against Covid-19.

Currently several countries are making experiments and even started testing their vaccines.

That's true, but it will take time.

We are living in a globalised world which makes us face new challenges. Apparently we have to learn to react quickly. The question is whether we have underestimated this threat?

I think that we have reacted in an adequate way. Everything depends on how we, as a society, face the realities and respond to them. Whether we give credit to unverified information which provokes panic. Now we see all kinds of conspiracy theories being spread. In my opinion, Bulgaria has faced this challenge adequately and so far has managed to contain the disease. I hope we all will be disciplined.

Will an all-European crisis centre help to cope with this difficult situation?

Currently all European institutions are working remotely. The European Council also holds its sittings online. A decision was taken to form a team of experts with the EC that will give recommendations and share the best practices for curbing the infection.

This is a new challenge for the European Union - not only Brexit, the migrant crisis again draws public attention. How will the EU find a way out of this situation having in mind that its basic value is free movement of people?

I am optimistic and believe that we will overcome this crisis. If we have to qualify this global challenge, it is not a blow to the EU specifically. Together we can overcome if we comply with all the recommendations. Of course, travelling must be curtailed temporarily, but the right to freedom of movement has not been violated. The aim is self-discipline, we can hardly say that the EU has given up on one of its basic values, the freedom of movement. It has to be preserved and I hope that the measures undertaken will help us return to our normal way of life. However, let's learn our lessons from what has happened. It would be good to understand how exactly the pandemic which started from China became possible, because now there are many conspiracy theories. What we need is a scientifically-based answer to each piece of information. Science doesn't know everything as of yet.

You saw that people are panic shopping. Is it because of lack of information? Why did this happen?

This reaction is inherent in human nature - people want to provide food for their families. Nevertheless, there is no need to panic. There is enough food, and it was decided to create green corridors between the Member States to avoid delays in the supply of necessary commodities. The European institutions have appreciated our efforts and I hope we will be able to bring down the number of infected people.

Close-up

Andrey Kovatchev was born on 13 December 1967 in Sofia. He graduated the University of Saarland, Germany, and has a PhD degree in natural sciences. Kovatchev is a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Subcommittee on Human Rights, as well as the Delegation for Relations with the United States of the European Parliament. He is a substitute of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and the Delegation to the EU-Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Joint Parliamentary Committee. Before becoming a MEP, he has worked as Commercial Manager for Bulgaria of the Swedish company Alfa Laval Agri/Tetra Pak, and as director for the Commonwealth of Independent States of the US company John Deere International.

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