Multilateralism – the idea that together we are stronger, that a rules-based world will benefit people and stand up for the most vulnerable, no matter where they live ­– is under attack. In recent years, a range of players defying and opposing multilateralism as trade and security tensions have risen and important international agreements have lost support. The “me first” attitude has come to challenge the “us together” ethos.

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Worse still, people around the world are feeling the effects of widening inequalities within and among nations. This situation and the discontent it has caused have, in turn, driven criticism against the perceived status quo and established institutions – be they national governments or international organisations. Rightly or wrongly, people no longer believe that “the Establishment” is on their side.

The fight against Covid-19 has brought this issue into sharp focus. And multilateralism is at the core of that fight. For that reason – and for the future of our world – it must be protected.

Team Europe works with its partners

As long as Covid-19 threatens lives anywhere in the world, none of us is safe. This same principle lies at the very heart of international cooperation and partnerships: a threat to one of us is a threat to us all.

So we need to work together to tackle the health threat of COVID-19 and to strive for robust, lasting socioeconomic recovery, especially in the most vulnerable countries. This terrible virus is forcing us to distance ourselves from one another, for a short time at least. Yet I am confident that the fight we are waging together – and that we will win – will bring us closer together, for a long time to come. It should thus lead us back to strong multilateralism  – and the EU must lead the way.

To build a joint international front against the virus, we need everyone on board. A week ago, the European Commission stepped up and led the global response with a sizeable global response package of 15.6 billion euros in retargeted funding; EU Member States then added to that, bringing the Team Europe package to over 20 billion euros. And this week the IMF took the very welcome decision to approve immediate debt relief for 25 countries.

With this package in place, we have already set about building a comprehensive global response to address short- and long-term needs alike and pursue work with our partners, particularly in Africa, for a safer future for us all.

In parallel, at international level, we will continue using our influence as a major player in international cooperation and a leading champion of multilateralism to spearhead a coordinated response to the pandemic. To do this, we will work closely with the United Nations, International Financial Institutions, the G7 and the G20.

Three lines of action

In concrete terms, we have put together a robust set of targeted measures that follow three major lines of action. Firstly, we are engaged in emergency action to meet the most pressing needs. Our focus is on providing humanitarian assistance, personal protective equipment, food, water and other basic items, especially to the most vulnerable countries and groups. For maximum impact, Team Europe is working alongside international partners like the World Health Organization.

In addition, our European Fund for Sustainable Development is supporting steps by International Financial Institutions and European development finance institutions to provide local banks with the guarantee and liquidity provisions they need.

Secondly, we have a range of vital measures in place to support research, health, social and water systems in our partner countries. We are boosting existing EU health programmes and at the same time moving some EU funding under global health initiatives to tackle the Coronavirus. We are supporting more research into diagnostics, treatment and prevention and also helping to roll out mobile labs and other mobile solutions for testing. Looking ahead, we will help subsidise and deliver vaccines in vulnerable countries.

Thirdly, we already know that the economic fallout of this crisis will be severe for the world as a whole. Our response is designed to cushion the blow and help our partner countries get their economies and societies back on track. From a societal point of view, this will mean making sure that human rights, gender equality, governance standards and basic values are not compromised. From an economic point of view, it will mean working closely with international financial institutions to ensure all tools and resources available are ready to be used.

More broadly, we will use a guarantee under the European Fund for Sustainable Development to offer small businesses liquidity and technical assistance so that they can pay their staff, suppliers, cover other running costs, or adjust their business plans to withstand the pandemic.

Clap your hands and more

Hard times really bring us together and remind us of our collective power to endure even the toughest crises. It has been heartwarming to see people, from small children to senior citizens, open their doors and windows in the evenings and clap their hands to thank those in the front line in the fight against Covid-19. Healthcare workers, and others who helping keep us safe, really deserve all the appreciation we can give them.

The same applies to our friends in the world. I would like to pay tribute to all those who are working on the front line to ensure that our commitments to our partner countries turn into practical support on the ground that fully targets local needs. That includes staff in our implementing partner organisations and in the EU’s Delegations around the world.

If we all pull together now, we will be better equipped to overcome this dramatic crisis more quickly and more effectively. There has never been a greater need for multilateralism and for us to unite as a global community. As Team Europe, we will continue working hand in hand with all willing partners to make sure that we bring about change for the better – together.

Jutta Urpilainen

Commissioner for International Partnerships