Q&A - I Webinar EU-LAC facing COVID-19

On April 27th , the webinar "Regional Organisations and EU-CELAC Association facing COVID-19" was held. This was the first in a series that the EU-LAC Foundation is organizing to compare and share national and regional experiences in dealing with the pandemic crisis and to discuss challenges to bi-regional relations.

The webinar was inaugurated  by Paola Amadei, Executive Director of the EU-LAC Foundation, and was also attended by Edita Hrda, Executive Director for the Americas of the European External Action Service (EEAS); Mauricio Escanero, Ambassador of Mexico to the European Union, in his capacity as representative of the Pro Tempore Presidency of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (PPT CELAC); Douglas Slater, Assistant Secretary-General for Human and Social Development of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM); Claudia Gintersdorfer, Chief of the Regional Division for the Americas of the SEAE; Olinda Salguero, Chief of Staff of the General Secretariat of the Central American Integration System (SICA); and Guy van der Eede, Director a. i. of Health and Consumers of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission. The virtual meeting was moderated by Adrián Bonilla, Appointed Executive Director of the EU-LAC Foundation.

145 participants asked the panellists some questions through the chat and their answers are reproduced below:

Answer by Ambassador Mauricio Escanero, Head of Mexico's Mission to the EU - PPT CELAC

Q/: How can we manage the repatriation of compatriots who are in different countries of the world and that our country does not have the economic resources to carry out this activity?
A/: The Mexican Government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has supported since the beginning of the current health contingency those Mexican people who seek to return to the country. Our embassies and consulates around the world work to the best of their abilities in the face of the imposition of very different national and regional restrictive measures, as well as the constant cancellation of flights and reduction of frequencies on various routes.
The support needs were initially focused on the Asian continent. In recent days, requests for assistance have been concentrated in Europe and Latin America, as well as transit points and tourist sites in the Middle East and North Africa. Several Governments, as well as airlines and transport companies, have supported these efforts within their capabilities.
As a result of this coordination, the return of more than a thousand people to the country has been directly managed and the transit of many more has been facilitated, from countries such as China, the Republic of Korea, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Peru, Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia, Germany, Azerbaijan, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, France, Italy, Morocco, the United Kingdom and Russia. In the same way, the viability of repatriating nationals who are in other countries is sought.

Answers by Claudia Gintersdorfer, Head of the Americas Division - EEAS

Q/: What are the scenarios that the EU is handling for the crisis at the global level?
A/: The EU does not conduct ‘scenario planning’ as such but, as part of its regular horizon scanning, the EU keeps under constant review all factors related to strategic and operational planning.

Q/: I wanted to know if there are European funds to help small and medium-sized enterprises, including large companies. And if there is such funds, it is possible that the European Union could manage directly to really help the SMEs?
A/: Supporting the private sector and in particular the MSMEs is a key area for EU international cooperation. Details on the approach and modalities used to implement our cooperation in this area are available here.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, support to the private sector is offered through numerous bilateral programmes with specific countries. The focus of the activities is diverse, ranging from capacity-building, to internationalisation, increasing competitiveness, facilitating access to finance or building alliances and networks. For an overview of the EU´s cooperation priorities and programmes at country-level, you can access this link.
At regional/LAC level, the EU has also established as a focal sector Sustainable growth (EUR 215 m), one of the objectives being improving the policy framework for businesses and the competitiveness of the private sector. One of the most important programmes  Al-Invest (details).
In the context of the COVID crisis, the EU (though the “Team Europe package”) secured 918 EUR of financial support to partners in LAC. These funds aim at reducing inter alia the economic consequences of the pandemic.”
The EU comprehensive strategy to support economic activity and to prepare the ground for the recovery combine short, medium and long-term initiatives and coordinated actions taken so far at the level of the Member States, the EU and the euro area. A set of economic measures introduces extraordinary flexibility to allow a full mobilisation of financial support from the European Structural and Investment Funds and help Member States channel more resources for SMEs. Moreover, the European Investment Bank Group created a Pan-European Guarantee fund in response to the COVID-19 pandemic of €25 billion that will enable the Bank in partnership with local lenders and national promotional institutions to scale up its support to SMEs, mid-caps and corporates by mobilising up to €200 billion.

Q/: I am part of a youth organization that seeks to positively impact the world and we would like to know and participate in the ecosystem for cooperation resources between EU-LAC.  Would it be possible a meeting or a similar space to know about the functioning of the ecosystem and participation mechanisms?
A/: This is a question for the EU Delegation in the country concerned, who could advise on possible grants available.
We suggest to consult the list of the EU projects on the EU Delegations´ webpages in the country(ies) they are interested in and contact directly the implementing organisations (e.g. offering support as volunteers)
In case you would like to submit a proposal for a project, consult the list of thematic calls for proposals published by DEVCO. Although these calls are highly competitive and they will need to submit a complete proposal.

Q/: The distinguished panellist Claudia referred to digital efforts.  Do you have any writings or publications on this subject? Because it is a fact the acceleration of e-government as a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis, from the perspective of public administration, and of course, it entails issues of transparency and accountability.
A/: Digital technologies have been of great importance in the control and mitigation of COVID-19. Under the following link you can see the actions that the EU has taken in response to the pandemic, in the digital field. Areas of work include telecommunications networks and connectivity, digital platforms and disinformation, as well as disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence or supercomputing.
These initiatives fit into a broader policy framework of the European Commission, which has set the digital sector as one of the top priorities for action over the next five years. Details on the European digital agenda can be found here.
As regards cooperation with Latin America and the Caribbean, there is much interest on both sides to achieve more alignment on digital issues. One of the important contributions of the EU is its experience in creating the European Digital Single Market. This experience is even more relevant considering that Latin America and the Caribbean are making efforts to advance in their own regional integration process (eLAC 2020).
There is a lot of exchange on digital policies, regulatory framework and standardization (link) . In addition to the dialogues with individual countries, two regional events have been held to establish the main areas of cooperation. We are also initiating a more structured exchange with sub-regional organizations such as the Pacific Alliance. At the operational level, several projects are working for example on data protection, ICT standardisation, cyber security, research or networking. The BELLA project, which will improve connectivity between the two regions through an underwater cable, is also worth mentioning.

Q/: What will the EUR 5 million announced by High Representative Borrell in Mexico consist of? How will these EUR 5 million be implemented? Through which programmes?
A/: The EU is looking at possible interventions to improve the resilience of the public health system
It will also seek to readjust a number of existing projects to address issues that arise in the framework of the epidemic (for example Spotlight to respond to the increase of cases of gender-based violence as a result of confinement)

Answer by Adrian Bonilla, Executive Director Designate of the EU-LAC Foundation

Q/: Considering that the current multilateral system could face new challenges, what are the strategies with which the EU-LAC Foundation intends to respond to these possible challenges in the future?
A/: The Foundation must face multiple challenges, but basically the biggest one is probably common to all international intergovernmental bodies. It is about how to sustain multilateralism in conditions where the world will face economic difficulties, probably even a global recession, according to the forecast of several financial agencies. The Foundation must sustain and, if possible, increase the intensity of its relations with the governments of both regions and prioritize an agenda, within the approved work plans, that is seen as useful for governments and for actors in society. The Pandemic is a global phenomenon, its consequences will go far beyond the health field, entropic dynamics have emerged in the international order in recent years, and the possibility of consolidating governance and producing international policies necessary for people depends largely on the willingness to strengthen multilateral mechanisms. That would be the environment in which we have to operate.