21 European countries show solidarity and are helping each other

Romanian doctors and health professionals arrive in Italy. Photo: EU Commission.

Summary Germany accepts Covid-19 patients from Italy, Romania and Poland send doctors, and France donates masks and protective suits. At least 21 countries have shown solidarity and are helping other European countries.

(This brief was published on April 8 and has since been updated. Latest update was May 19, 2020).

An overview provided by Think Tank EUROPA shows that European countries are increasingly helping each other, e.g. by treating Covid-19 patients from Italy. At least 21 countries are helping, either bilaterally or through the EU and NATO. Germany alone has treated at least 229 patients from e.g. Italy, France and the Netherlands.

All the way back to February 28, 2020, Italy asked for help to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM).

When a member state requests assistance through the UCPM, the EU Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) assists with coordinating the effort and help. Member states report which resources they can and want to contribute with, such as doctors, nurses and protective equipment.

The mechanism was established in 2001 and has since then been activated 330 times, usually in response to a natural disaster, such as forest fires in Sweden. As a result, the UCPM has been described as a great example of European solidarity, because the countries that are not affected by the disaster have the capacity to help the affected country.

Everybody is under pressure

However, the Covid-19 crisis is fundamentally different since all EU-countries to a greater or lesser extent are struggling with the pandemic.

When Italy activated the mechanism, no EU member state responded. The lack of help triggered accusations from Italy that the rest of Europe was betraying the spirit of cooperation in the Union. China on the other hand supplied protective equipment.

Since then, Spain has also activated the UCPM, and both Italy and Spain have moreover asked for help through a similar crisis management mechanism in NATO.  This mechanism is coordinated through the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC). On March 24, Spain requested 150.000 protective suits, nearly 2 million masks, 500.000 test kits and 500 ventilators.

Countries can also request help from each other directly. France has done this with Germany, and Italy has written directly to (among others) the Danish government. Cooperation and requests for help also take place at regional level. For example, the North Rhine-Westphalia region in Germany has been requested to receive patients from the German-Dutch border region.

Who is helping who?

After the slow start, a number of European countries, both within and outside the EU and NATO, have expressed their desire to help other European countries. The table below only shows the support that countries have given to each other – not the assistance they have received directly from the EU or other organisations.

The assistance has been provided across three categories of needs: 1) Donation of protective equipment, 2) Receiving and treating Covid-19 patients, and 3) Assistance in the form of health professionals. The table is based on sources from both the EU, NATO and the countries themselves and is not necessarily complete.

Denmark has received requests directly from Italy and Spain. On April 8, Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod announced that Denmark would help Italy with a number of ventilators, a field hospital and a donation of DKK 7.5 million for the Italian Red Cross.

Since the publication of the Danish contribution, the Danish Health Authority has announced that the Danish ventilators cannot be used to treat Covid-19 patients. According to the national radio-program, P1 Morgen, and the newspaper Politiken, Italy has since turned down the Danish ventilators and the field hospital.

On May 19 P1 Morgen reported that the Region of Southern Denmark made 13 (Covid-19-suitable) ventilators available to Italian authorities. This offer has been accepted.

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