On 23 February 2020, the European Commission proudly announced that the EU was sending an additional 25 tonnes of medical equipment (face masks, gloves, protective clothing and disinfectant gel) to China. This was in addition to the 30 tonnes that had already been sent to combat coronavirus in China. Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Derk Jan Eppink however, requested a more in-depth description from the European Commission on the content and the cost.
In April 2020, Dutch MEP Derk Jan Eppink of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) posed a parliamentary question to the European Commission asking “what quantities of face masks, gloves, protective clothing and disinfectant gel were donated to China?” and requesting “a breakdown quoting separate figures for the 30 tonnes and the 25 tonnes mentioned on 23 February”.
The MEP also asked “what was the cost of these 55 tonnes?” In closing, the parliamentarian enquired about the transport costs and who had covered that cost, including any “co-financing involved?” Finally, MEP Derk Jan Eppink asked “was the delivery made at the request of China, and how much did China pay for the goods?”
In June 2020 Crisis Management Commissioner, Janez Lenarcic, on behalf of the European Commission, responded that “China requested personal protective equipment from the EU on 28 January 2020 at the inception of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan” and highlighted that “nine Member States donated 56.35 metric tonnes under the Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM): 2 100 pairs of goggles, 662 439 items of protective clothing, 112 956 surgical masks, 1 954 921 medical masks and 21 300 disposable gowns — fulfilling 88.5% of China’s request”.
He explained that “donations were delivered on a staggered basis on five separate flights” and that “in early February 2020, Germany and France transported six tonnes each of personal protective equipment on the outward leg of their repatriation flights from Wuhan to Europe”.
The Commissioner further reported that “France sent another 17 tonnes of personal protective equipment donated by France, Latvia and Estonia to Wuhan on 19 February 2020” and that “the transport costs of this in-kind assistance were therefore covered by costs of the repatriation operations”.
Commissioner Lenarcic underlined that “Italy sent 1.5 tonnes worth of protective overalls and masks on 14 February 2020 to the Chinese Red Cross in Beijing, requesting EUR 22 302 in EU transport co-financing” and that “Austria sent a cargo flight from Vienna to Wuhan on 23 February 2020 with 25.85 tonnes of personal protective equipment and disinfectant from Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia and requested EUR 149 550 in transport co-financing”.
Further, the Commissioner said that details on the monetary value of individual donations are generally not shared with the Emergency Response Coordination Centre by Member States and that “China did not pay for the assistance received; Member States made donations on a voluntary basis under the UCPM, with 75% transport co-financing paid from the Union budget”.
It is well documented that China reciprocated in providing several countries of the European Union with defective equipment, at increased prices, during the peak of their epidemics. As Europe potentially enters a second wave, its Member States are much more cautious now when accepting political purchases which may come with strings attached.
Photo Credit : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_China