What is the Emergency Support Instrument?

The general objective of the Emergency Support Instrument (ESI) in 2020 was to provide needs-based emergency support, complementing the efforts of Member States, aimed at preserving lives, preventing and alleviating human suffering, and maintaining human dignity, wherever the need arose as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The nature and consequences of the pandemic are large-scale and transnational, affecting all Member States, due to the quick spread of the virus, and requiring a comprehensive response to allow the EU as a whole to address the crisis in a spirit of solidarity. The ESI provides added value by directly supporting the healthcare systems of Member States through targeted measures that can be deployed strategically and in a coordinated manner to have a greater impact on mitigating the large-scale consequences of the pandemic.


The legal basis of the ESI does not set out specific objectives, as it is designed to allow for a comprehensive and flexible response to the urgent, evolving and diverse needs of an emergency – in this case, during the COVID-19 pandemic. In line with the legal basis, the Commission cooperated closely with the Member States in the implementation of the instrument. It regularly exchanged views with the Member States on their needs and how these were being taken into account in the programming, and informed them of the state of play of the actions to be financed by the instrument. This cooperation and exchange informed the choice of actions to be prioritised. The European Parliament was also kept informed.

Why is it necessary?

The ESI complements the efforts of Member States, in close cooperation and consultation with them, and intervenes only in exceptional circumstances where no other instrument available to Member States and to the EU is sufficient. The scale and nature of the COVID-19 pandemic across all Member States require a comprehensive response. Other EU instruments are limited in scale and scope and do not provide a sufficient response to address the exceptional and wide-ranging needs resulting from the pandemic in a timely manner.

The EU is better placed than Member States, acting alone and in an uncoordinated manner, to mobilise appropriate levels of financing and use them to implement operations of a potentially life-saving nature in an economic, efficient and effective manner by means of its scale, speed of deployment or capacity to provide EU-level solutions to underpin cross-border cooperation. Given the unprecedented consequences of the pandemic for all citizens and all sectors of the economy, and considering the need for rapid and efficient action as well as the complementarity of the emergency support provided, the instrument does not go beyond what is necessary to achieve its objective.

Delivery mode

A specific internal governance arrangement was put in place, including a steering committee composed of the co-delegated authorising officers, together with the Secretariat-General and the Directorate-General for Budget, to provide strategic coordination of the ESI. The ESI is centrally managed by the Commission and implemented mostly through direct management.

Link between the 2014-2020 period and the 2021-2027 period

The Emergency Support Instrument is activated independently from the multiannual financing framework. It spans across both the 2014-2020 and the 2021-2027 period. The present activation of the instrument, currently aimed to help fighting the COVID-19 crisis, expires on 31 January 2022: by then the actions currently financed are expected to be covered by the new generation of programmes, in particular EU4Health, as appropriate.

COVID-19 crisis activation

  • EUR 2 700.0 millionBudget allocation 2020

The analysis of the budget and its implementation only focuses on 2020, when the instrument was used to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. The previous activations of the instrument in the 2014-2019 period, notably to tackle the migration crisis, are not taken into account here. It also only takes into account voted budget appropriations.

Overall execution 2020

  Total %
Commitments EUR 2 700.0 million
Payments EUR 2 231.2 million

The analysis of the budget and its implementation only focuses on 2020, when the instrument was used to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. The previous activations of the instrument in the 2014-2019 period, notably to tackle the migration crisis, are not taken into account here. It also only takes into account voted budget appropriations.


Performance assessment

  • The ESI is needs-based, in the context of a quickly evolving pandemic. No performance framework or indicators are prescribed in the legal basis since the instrument was designed to be adaptable to emerging needs.
  • The ESI has proven its effectiveness in quickly mobilising resources towards the needs identified in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore it has met its objective of responding to the urgent, evolving and diverse needs of Member States in responding to a crisis.
  • Over the course of 2020, the major focus of the instrument (requiring some 86% of available funding) has been to conclude advance purchase agreements with pharmaceutical companies developing COVID-19 vaccines, providing the necessary investment to advance the scientific progress and production capacities. As a result, 2.6 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines were secured for Member States once they had been proved safe and effective.
  • The instrument allowed all Member States to have access to the antiviral ‘remdesivir’ at a time when contracts were not available to individual countries and remdesivir was the only medication approved in the EU to treat COVID-19. The ESI secured some 200 million rapid antigen tests for Member States. Grants were awarded to 49 projects totalling EUR 150 million to support cargo transport of essential medical supplies into the EU at a time of limited cargo transport availability and accordingly higher costs. Furthermore, some 280 medical personnel and around 40 patients were transported across borders to ensure the best deployment of available infrastructures and save lives. The ESI funded solutions to support interoperability between national contact tracing apps: 16 national tracing apps are now connected through the EU gateway, and 13 Member States received support to adapt their apps and back-end servers in order to connect to the gateway. Working with the national branches of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the instrument ensured the stepping-up of testing capacities across the seven Member States that expressed an interest: 3 500 volunteers and professionals have been trained in testing techniques, and 75 mobile testing teams have been established. Across the EU, 15 000 professionals in 750 hospitals have been trained in intensive-care unit skills, and the Commission has been approached by non-EU countries wishing to join the training programme. The instrument has also funded the supply of at least 200 ultraviolet disinfection robots to hospitals across the EU. The instrument delivered some 10 million masks to medical staff in the early phase of the crisis. A first batch of 1.5 million masks purchased and distributed to Member States did not meet the necessary quality standards and was destroyed; under the terms of the contract the supplier provided replacements, and a quality-control contract was put in place to ensure that the necessary standards were met before the replacement and future batches were exported.
  • The European Court of Auditors’ review in January 2021 of the EU’s initial contribution to the public health response, as published on 18 January 2021, addressed the state of play of the instrument as of 30 June 2020. It noted the role of the instrument in complementing Member States’ and other EU responses. It did not make recommendations but acknowledged that it was a challenge for the EU to rapidly complement the measures taken within its formal remit, as public health is primarily a national competence. With regard to the Commission’s financial support for vaccine development, the Court highlighted that the Commission had mitigated the inherent risk linked to vaccine development by investing in a range of vaccine technologies and companies.
  • In February 2021, the Commission reported on the allocation of funding to ESI actions in 2020, which also provided an update on the state of play of implementation.

Concrete examples of achievements

  • 2.6 billiondoses of COVID-19 vaccines secured for delivery once vaccines have proved safe and effective, with the potential for Member States to purchase more. Deliveries started in December 2020.
  • 1 500cargo operations involving over 1 000 flights and 500 transports by road, rail and sea between April and September 2020, delivering medical supplies life-saving personal protective equipment, and testing and medical equipment.
  • 283medical personnel and 34 patients transported according to needs during 2020.
  • 150local blood- or plasma-collection centres were awarded grants for blood-collection services to step up programmes for collecting plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients from January 2021.
  • 10 millionmasks for healthcare workers distributed to Member States from July to October 2020.
  • At least 200ultraviolet disinfection robots, together with transport, installation and training of operating staff, started to be delivered on 26 February 2021. Monthly batches of 30 robots or more will be delivered throughout 2021.

Programme Performance Overview

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