Remarks by President Charles Michel after the video conference of the members of the European Council on 29 October 2020

First of all, I wish to express our full solidarity with France and the French people, against whom a barbaric terrorist attack has once again been perpetrated. We are totally determined to pull together and to stand united as a European family to defend the values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

I now come to the subject of this evening’s videoconference: the fight against COVID-19. The main political message I wish to convey this evening is the following: we are united and stand together, because we are in the same boat. The fight is a difficult one. The crisis is severe. The second wave means that we, and our fellow citizens across Europe, are once again being put to the test.

On Covid now. The numbers are increasing everywhere in Europe. Our hospitals and health workers are again under pressure and that’s why many leaders have announced lockdowns and restrictions. In such hard times, cohesion and solidarity matter more than ever. We call on all Europeans to take care of themselves and of each other.

Our thoughts tonight first go to all those who are suffering, to the most vulnerable in our societies, to all of them. I want to express our greatest sympathy and convey our support. A big thank you also to our medical teams that are doing an extraordinary job in such difficult circumstances.

Today with the leaders, during the video conference, we had the occasion to focus on testing and tracing policies and vaccines, because those issues are crucial not only in the short term, but also in the mid and the longer term. We shared our experiences and discussed how to help each other.

Testing and tracing are key to limiting the spread of the virus, it is crucial because it allows us to better control the situation. We exchanged on how to advance a common approach to the mutual recognition, deployment and use of rapid tests. This would reduce the negative impact on free movement and on the functioning of the Single Market, which we absolutely need to preserve.

Yesterday, the Commission presented a recommendation on testing strategies and we will work actively on that basis to strengthen our coordination.

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On tracing, we encouraged all member states to participate in this initiative on interoperability between apps, put on the table by the Commission. Another goal to facilitate tracing is the establishment of a common Passenger Locator Form on which we should continue to make progress.

We also had the opportunity to discuss the possibility of harmonising the duration of quarantine for those infected with Covid.

We also addressed the issue of vaccines. We are fully convinced that, on the basis of the initiative set in motion by the European Commission and on which the President of the Commission had the opportunity to share the latest information with the assembled leaders, we must anticipate the time when one or more vaccines will be available. Very clearly there was already a shared desire to lay the groundwork for cooperation to ensure that the strategy for vaccines is effective, once they become available. The focus was primarily on four areas, on which we have already made progress together, and want to continue to progress.

The first point was to ensure that we were in full agreement – and this was a sentiment repeated by those present at the videoconference – that fair distribution between Member States must be guaranteed in the context of the contracts entered into by the Commission on their behalf, and in the context of further contracts to be concluded, we hope, in the coming weeks.

The second was to have an exchange of views with the aim of coming to an agreement on the groups that should have access to the vaccine as a priority. We are well aware that each Member State has already begun to think about the idea that there are target groups to be treated as a priority, for example the most vulnerable people, the elderly, people with chronic illnesses or those who work in the medical sector. We wish to achieve the greatest possible level of harmonisation in this area, as part of an approach to the issue which is as unified as possible.

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The third point – and it is a very concrete one – is the issue of logistics. Even when, we hope, vaccines become available in the coming months, there will be a huge amount of logistical work to do in order to ensure that the vaccine campaign can be deployed effectively. You know that some of the proposed vaccines will need to be administered in one dose. Others require two doses. This has logistical implications. Not all of the hoped-for vaccines need to be stored in the same way or kept at the same temperature. This will raise questions in terms of storage and transport, for example.

Finally, communication on vaccines. We are well aware that it will be important to deploy strategies to try to prevent disinformation, to prevent fake news, to ensure transparency, and to be able to monitor side effects. Because we are all aware that the exceptional efforts that have been made in terms of funding and research must, this time, result in one or more vaccines being deployed within the space of a year. This is very quick compared to usual practice. On average, it takes 10 years for vaccines to be produced and deployed.

On all of these subjects, we have seen that there has been a very strong willingness within each of the European bodies to work tirelessly to achieve progress, and with the political will of the leaders, to be personally involved to provide the impetus needed to ensure that the right and necessary decisions are taken and that our ability to anticipate is up to the task.

We also had the opportunity to tackle an important topic, the economic recovery. And this is a clear message. We hope that it will be possible in the very short term to decide on the implementation of the package that we agreed in July. Because we all understand that it’s very important to make progress to limit the spread of the virus, which is a very important measure to limit the economic and the social damage. But it’s also important to implement what we have decided.

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You will have seen that this video conference was an opportunity to exchange views, as announced a few weeks ago following the European Council meeting. And as well as an exchange of views, it was an opportunity to reconcile our different perspectives on the basis of one conviction: together we shall be stronger, so that we can win this battle against the virus.

This crisis is a severe and painful one. It is an unprecedented crisis that has affected the whole world, and the worst to have hit Europe in decades. There is only one option: we must unite; we must roll up our sleeves, not just by making speeches, not just with words, but with action, with decisions, so as to respond to the need to protect our citizens. To respond to the need, too, to be able to revive our economies, support our social models and ensure that in the coming weeks and months we can make progress together for the benefit of the 450 million European citizens, and in partnership with all our partners throughout the world.

I would also like to mention Turkey because we mentioned Turkey today. As you know, in October we had a strategic debate on the Eastern Mediterranean and our relationship with Turkey. We expressed our determination to be respected. And we agreed to work on two tracks. A positive track and a less positive one.

We offered a clear way to work towards a positive agenda with Turkey. So far, Turkey has not chosen this path. We condemn the recent unilateral action in the Eastern Mediterranean, provocations and rhetoric, which are completely unacceptable. We will have the opportunity to revert to this topic in December.

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