How does it work?

The programme is called SURE, which means temporary Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency. The name may be complicated but the rule is simple: national governments apply for EU support, which is made available in the form of loans on favourable terms. The money then funds national short-time work schemes and similar measures that shield people from unemployment and loss of income.

SURE helps EU countries cover the increased levels of public spending needed to preserve employment during the pandemic. But what does that mean for ordinary people? Financial assistance helps employers to avoid cutting jobs, while those who are self-employed can be covered against loss of income. With the funding, businesses can also transform their workplaces into Covid-safe environments, to help get people back to work.

So far, 19 EU countries have applied for SURE support totalling over €90 billion, of which the EU has already paid out over €62 billion.

Bulgaria

Mihail Kolchev © Svilocell, 2020

Mihail Kolchev © Svilocell, 2020

This is Mihail Kolchev, the executive director of Svilosa AD, a company in northern Bulgaria that produces pulp to make different kinds of paper, such as tissue paper, printing paper and cardboard. The pandemic posed serious challenges to the industry, aggravating an already difficult situation.

“Due to the economic crisis, pulp prices on the international market have collapsed, declining by about 40%, and difficulties for the industry are likely to continue.”

The downturn in business meant that Mihail needed financial support to keep Svilosa AD open and almost 500 employees in jobs. Thankfully, from July 2020, the EU’s SURE support was there to help cover wages.

“EU support under the SURE programme plays an important role in ensuring that employees continue to receive income and that companies retain their staff in times of crisis.”

In total, Bulgaria will receive over €511 million in SURE loans, which will help navigate the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic.

Svilosa factory © Svilocell, 2020

Svilosa factory © Svilocell, 2020

Greece

Dimitris Kapothanasis © Active Gym, 2021

Dimitris Kapothanasis © Active Gym, 2021

Dimitris Kapothanasis owns a gym in Perama, near Athens. For him and many others working in the fitness industry, the coronavirus crisis has been an extremely difficult time. Gyms have been closed due to the risk of becoming hotspots for virus transmission, leaving the owners, staff and personal trainers temporarily out of work.

“Gyms in Greece are one of the industries that has suffered a huge financial impact, given that the owners have not had any revenues since February 2020.”

Thanks to the SURE programme, gym employees have received a special allowance and had their social security contributions paid for as long as they were out of work. At the same time, owners like Dimitris and many others, for example Kleanthis Varelas from the town of Megara and Giorgos Ksiros from Athens, have been granted exemptions from paying rent, tax and insurance, and from loan obligations

EU financial support has helped many Greek gyms withstand the crisis, and for Dimitris, there’s now a light at the end of the tunnel. The secretary-general of Greece’s fitness centre association, Doros Kleovoulou, is also satisfied with the SURE programme. In his view, it has been well received by many during this difficult period.

“Multiple support measures helped the fitness industry survive, where the impact of the crisis was and still is severe. We believe that the EU fully rose to the challenge.”

The SURE programme is also providing relief to other sectors that are particularly impacted, including seasonal businesses that have been hard hit by the decrease in international tourism, as well as the self-employed. Overall, Greece will receive over €2.7 billion in EU loans for short-time work schemes and similar measures.

© Active Gym, 2021

Active Gym © Active Gym, 2021

Italy

Bruno Gili ©Termomacchine, 2021

Bruno Gili © Termomacchine, 2021

Meet Bruno Gili. He’s the president of Termomacchine, a company based in Turin that specialises in the design, construction and sale of specialist heating systems that run on electromagnetic induction – the process of generating electric current with a magnetic field.

Established in 1976 as a family business, Termomacchine had never before needed government support to keep going. However, the coronavirus crisis changed everything.

“Due to the pandemic, the volume of orders plummeted. As far as large orders are concerned, they froze in March 2020.”

Fortunately the company has been receiving SURE support to pay employee wages even though the workforce is still only operating at around 40% full capacity. For Bruno it’s clear – EU support has been invaluable during the crisis.

“We are certainly convinced that, without this kind of assistance, the country would not have been able to support companies and workers as it has done so far.”

In Italy, the SURE money has also been used to fund allowances for the self-employed and freelancers, as well as those working in the entertainment industry and in agriculture. It has helped finance parental leave schemes and disability benefits. In total, over €27 billion will be made available to Italy so that businesses like Termomacchine can survive the crisis and workers stay in jobs.

Spain

Tania © Tania Grisel Losa Lucas, 2021

Tania © Tania Grisel Losa Lucas, 2021

This is Tania Losa. For over 25 years, she’s worked as a croupier in a Mallorca casino.

When Spain entered its first lockdown in March 2020 and all casinos were closed, Tania began to seriously worry about her family’s future – especially as her husband worked in the same line of business.

“Our family income was reduced by almost 50% during the first months and we were forced to use our limited savings to meet family costs.”

Thanks to a government support scheme funded by the EU’s SURE programme, Tania has kept her job during the multiple temporary closures of the casino over the course of the crisis. And whenever the casino briefly re-opened, Tania returned to work part-time, but a proportion of her wage was still covered by SURE funds.

“Financial help through the SURE programme of the European Union has been essential for both my family and those of my colleagues. It has allowed us to keep our jobs and maintain the welfare of our families.”

Apart from helping to finance Spain’s employment support scheme, the SURE loans have also contributed to funding the social security contributions of people working in the tourism industry, and have covered health benefits for workers absent due to coronavirus. In total, Spain will receive over €21 billion under the SURE programme, helping to keep many people like Tania in jobs.

Making sure we recover

Laureano © Laureano Turienzo Esteban, 2020

Laureano © Laureano Turienzo Esteban, 2020

The consequences of what started as a health crisis run deep and are likely to stay with us for the years to come. Laureano Turienzo agrees. He’s the President of the Spanish Retail Association, and an expert in global retail markets.

“We need to understand the problem won’t end with the vaccine. We will be living in this ‘new normality’ for years.”

In Laureano’s view, EU support has been vital for keeping the economy moving over the past months.

“SURE is a blessing. The programme helps European countries tackle the crisis. In the case of Spain, if the loans had not been approved, the country would have lost 40% of its bars and restaurants.”

This potential damage to the European economy and to people’s livelihoods is why the EU has taken action. Programmes like SURE will help mitigate the consequences of the crisis. And over the coming months and years, additional funding from the NextGenerationEU instrument will help set Europe on the path to recovery, for a future that’s greener, more digital and resilient to new challenges.