Emil Radev: European solidarity is the best vaccine against the pandemic

The EU shot down speculations that it is on assisted ventilation

It is true that the steps taken at the very outset of this new situation were perhaps not as decisive as many may have hoped, but Europe has since proven that it has enough internal strength to mount an adequate response to a sudden crisis, MEP Emil Radev says in an interview to Monitor.

Mr Radev, a new methodology for putting third countries on the EU's so-called “money-laundering blacklist” was recently discussed at the level of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee and the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee of the European Parliament. What were the emphases and how can we tackle this problem?

The new methodology that the European Commission (EC) is developing will be used to decide which third countries should be put on the so-called “money-laundering blacklist”. The goal is to identify third counties exhibiting strategic shortcomings to their national systems for combating money laundering and terrorism financing. These steps are necessary in order to stave off threats to the integrity and security of the EU's financial system. In other words, the idea is to create a common mechanism relying on evidence and facts in accordance with EU legislation. There are two ways to identify high-risk third countries - either they are already on the radar of the Financial Action Task Force (an intergovernmental organisation with the OECD) or they are blacklisted as a result of an in-depth analysis carried out by the EC and incorporating various sources of information. Inarguably, we need complete transparency both when it comes to the procedure of evaluating third countries and the specific European indicators they have to be mindful of in order to avoid getting blacklisted. Of course, Member States also have the duty to strictly apply European legislation in this area. The legal framework of the EU is gradually being strengthened, but there are still some flaws to be fixed. For example, the 5th Anti-Money Laundering Directive should have been transposed into national law by Member States by January of this year. Unfortunately, a lot of countries are yet to do it or have implemented half-measures. This is why it is so important for the EC to have a tight rein on the implementation and enforcement of the existing legislation and open infringement procedures against the countries that are not complying with the rules.

What are your expectations for the new blacklist, which is set to be proposed at the beginning of May?

The existing methodology has often been criticised by the Council of the EU, which even rejected last year's proposal of the EC. So I am eager to see how the new blacklist will be received, which the EC is supposed to announce in early May and which will have been compiled under the old methodology. The focus will likely be on the countries added to the FATF money-laundering list. The first results of implementing the new methodology, which is yet to be officially adopted, can come as early as the end of the year. The existing legal framework regarding combating money laundering and terrorism financing has serious flaws in terms of implementation. This is why it is important that a comprehensive European approach to counteracting these phenomena be created. Against this backdrop, we are eagerly anticipating not only the blacklist, but the EC's presentation of a comprehensive action plan in that field as well.

What challenges does the new, globalised world pose and will we be able to respond to them?

The new situation we are faced with requires us to seek new solutions. To keep doing our job, we need to adapt quickly. We have had not only a Civil Rights, Justice and Home Affairs Committee meeting but also two plenary sessions (since the outbreak of Covid-19). We voted online on the EC's crucial emergency measures to fight the novel coronavirus and in support of Member States, citizens and businesses. Yes, there are plenty of difficulties associated with working from home (in an environment of social distancing), but we are making an effort to be active and as effective as possible. Without the tools afforded to us by digitalisation, we would not have been able to organise a new way of operating so swiftly and to greenlight the emergency measures Europe needs. The new technologies have made it possible for an extremely large segment of the population to continue doing their jobs, albeit from home. Clearly no one was prepared for what befell us and there is no obvious formula to handle the crisis as the world is faced with unprecedented challenges. More than ever, it is clear that EU Member States have a better chance of overcoming the pandemic and coping with the economic crisis if they stick together. For now, European solidarity is the best vaccine against the challenges we are dealing with.

Is the EU as a whole doing a good job of containing the Covid-19 pandemic or was it late to act?

The EU has shot down the speculations that it is on assisted ventilation. It is true that the steps taken at the very outset of this new situation were perhaps not as decisive as many may have hoped, but Europe has since proven that it has enough internal strength to mount an adequate response to a sudden crisis. Within days of the pandemic outbreak, restrictive measures were put into effect, while the EC came out with specific and reasonable suggestions, which were then supported by the European Parliament (EP). Four joint public procurement orders were swiftly carried out - for gloves and surgical gowns; personal protective equipment for eye and respiratory protection; medical ventilators; and laboratory equipment. The EU even initiated cooperation with countries in the Western Balkans for deliveries there. The EC is currently working on a model to facilitate direct assistance to healthcare systems in Member States. Let us not forget that they fall within the competence of national governments. Even so, €3bn from the EU budget was mobilised on 2 April to fund this action, of which €2.7bn will be channelled through the Emergency Support Instrument and €300m though the rescEU medical equipment capacity. A joint research and innovation action plan called ERAvsCorona is being drawn up. Numerous research teams are getting funding to develop a vaccine and study Covid-19. The EU has set up “green lanes” to ensure cross-border deliveries of goods in the environment of closed borders. Procedures have been simplified so as to remove any obstacles to the flow of goods and limit the stay of freight at cross-border checkpoints to 15 minutes. Thanks to the EU Civil Protection Mechanism hundreds of thousands of Europeans left stranded across the world were able to return home. The bloc's efforts are continuing.

It has been repeatedly stressed that Bulgaria copes with this situation very well in comparison with other European countries. Do you think it is true?

The number of deceased and infected in Bulgaria is more than indicative set against the frightening black statistics in a number of other countries, which until recently seemed to us far more prepared for any challenges. At a time when doctors around the world are waging a real war for the lives of patients with Covid-19, the situation in Bulgaria is a sign that the measures taken result in the control over the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, however, the picture can change within just a few days, if people do not follow the recommendations for social isolation, personal hygiene, for the use of the appropriate protective equipment. In fact, separated during social isolation we are more connected by our efforts to overcome the crisis. Coping with the pandemic does not depend only on the decisions of the national operative staff, but largely on the personal responsibility and discipline of each of us. So, the key word is still solidarity, whether it is in the form of European mutual assistance, of State support or of human empathy. National and local authorities are making every effort to protect people's lives and health and to provide a complex of social and economic measures to support the business and the most vulnerable groups during the pandemic. The Bulgarian government quickly identifies programmes and resources to be mobilised in response to the crisis and to provide targeted support for those in need.  

Are these measures effective enough for mitigating the grave consequences for the economy on the European level?

We work in stages, which is logical, as the pandemic is in full swing and it is difficult to anticipate absolutely all the consequences. The first package of socio-economic measures was voted by the EP at the end of March. It includes an investment initiative to deal with the coronavirus that mobilises available cash reserves in the European structural and investment funds to provide liquidity to small businesses and the health sector. Thus, €37bn were allocated for the affected regions. Bulgaria will use around €800m under this scheme. The Solidarity Fund, which was created for coping with natural disasters, will now be used to protect public health as well. We are working hard towards the creation of the proposed by the EC SURE scheme, a new instrument for temporary support to mitigate unemployment risks in an emergency by helping companies to keep their staff and their incomes. SURE will allow for a financial assistance up to €100bn in the form of loans from the EU for the affected Member States. Several days ago we adopted additional measures with a view to ensuring maximum flexibility in channelling the structural funds which as of yet have not been used for fighting Covid-19 and its effect on the citizens.

MEPs have already asked to see a large-scale package of measures in support of the European economy after the Covid-19 crisis, including recovery bonds. Will this help?

It is crucial to find a joint EU response to Covid-19 after the lifting of the restrictive measures. The resolution we adopted welcomed fiscal measures on EU level and thus we gave our support for liquidity to address the pandemic. But let's be honest - we need a lot more.

A large-scale recovery package, which would include the so-called “recovery bonds” guaranteed by the EU budget would definitely be of help. There are also calls for a more large-scale pooling of debt for recovery, but the differences as regards the approach to these problems between northern and southern European countries are big. I hope, however, that the EU leaders will agree on the necessary clear-cut plan for decisive action in response to the economic crisis.

After everything that has happened and considering the closed borders will the refugee flow decrease?

It would be logical to expect that the flow of refugees towards the borders of Europe will decrease having in mind the pandemic and the subsequent closure of all borders. There is information that refugees coming from Tunisia and Algeria, for instance, currently have stopped their attempts to enter Europe, for fear of the virus. However, this doesn't mean that they have given up. The weather will improve, the pandemic will eventually end, and migrants will again be on their way to seek the better financial perspectives which the EU promises. However, there are many people who are now setting off on a journey to the Promised Land. According to UNHCR's data, only in March nearly 800 people travelled from Libya. Of them, 43 landed in Italy on the island of Lampedusa and 155 - in Malta. The rest have been captured by the Libyan coastguard and sent back. At the same time, thousands of migrants are located on the Greek islands, others are clustered along the border between Turkey and Greece. The bigger problem at this stage is the danger that the infection will spread in the refugee camps. Just imagine the camps crowded with thousands of people, where sanitary conditions are minimal and medical staff and equipment are not enough. Unfortunately, there is already information about infected migrants - several people are diagnosed in Greece and since last week there are reports about a sick migrant in a detention centre in Milan, Italy. The fear of infection, the distrust to each newly arrived, migrant or not, further aggravates the situation. According to Naval Law, the people rescued at sea must be taken to the nearest land. However, following the emergency measures, Malta and Italy now refuse to allow the rescued migrants on their shores. Namely as a result of the state of emergency, both Italy and Greece confronted problems and delays in processing applications for asylum. All these events additionally aggravate the situation resulting from lack of consensus between the EU Member States as regards migration.  

There will be more difficulties in reaching an agreement in the current negotiations on the internal dimensions of the new European pact on migration and asylum, which will be presented by the EC in the coming months. And even with a new pact, the agreement on sharing responsibilities for refugees and migrants in practice rests on fragile trust. However, it is this type of coordination and European solidarity that must be enforced in the face of serious migration pressure after the end of the pandemic. It is true that at the moment Europe seems to have forgotten its other problems, but the migrants have certainly not forgotten about Europe and we must continue to seek solutions.



Emil Radev was born on 26 May 1971 in the city of Varna. He graduated in Law and Public Administration and is currently a graduate student in Commercial Law. He has worked as a lawyer in Varna. From 2009 till 2013 he was an MP in the 41st and 42nd National Assembly. He was elected MEP in 2014. He is a member of the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament. He speaks English, German and Russian.

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