20 March 2020
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COVID-19: EU Amends Regulation on Medical Equipment Export Controls: EFTA out, Western Balkans still in?

As announced (see above tweet thread here) by Commission trade head, Phil Hogan, the EU already amended its Regulation so as to exclude EFTA and a number of other countries.  However, EU enlargement countries, including EU candidate countries, such as Serbia and Montenegro, continue to be subject to extraordinary export controls for basic equipment necessary to combat the COVID-19 outbreak (press release available here).

On March 15, 2020, European Commission approved a Regulation on the export authorization requirement for exports of personal protective equipment (PPE) outside of the European Union (available here). Adopted by urgency procedure, and followed by the Guidance note (available here), the Regulation requires exports of PPE outside of the European Union to be subject to an export authorization by Member States.

In the circumstances of the COVID-19 crisis constantly evolving, the EU sets as its primarily objective to secure the availability of PPE supplies.  For that reason, today, the Commission has reviewed the export authorization requirement and approved changes which will come to effect as of March 21, 2020 (available here).

In line with said changes, the list of countries and territories to be exempted is prolonged.  Namely, countries to be exempted are the European Free Trade Association countries (Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland), Andorra, the Faroe Islands, San Marino and the Vatican, as well as associated countries and territories that have special relations with Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

By contrast, the Guidance remains mute in relation to potential exemption of EU candidate countries.  Whilst having their special relations with the EU well established by the stabilisation and association agreements, it seems Western Balkans remain outside the exemption.  Is is worth remembering that only in February 2020, the Commission heralded  an introduction of a new “more credible, dynamic, predictable and political EU accession process” for the Western Balkans (available here).

In the Commission’s own words: “[m]aintaining and enhancing this policy is thus indispensable for the EU’s credibility, for the EU’ success and for the EU’s influence in the region and beyond – especially at times of heightened geopolitical competition” [emphasis added].  There will most definitely be a a lot food for thought until the next EU-Western Balkan Summit videoconference, previously scheduled at Zagreb in May 2020 (available here).

In terms of the Guidelines, the Commission also clarifies the possibility to maintain emergency operations of humanitarian organizations in third countries.

Notwithstanding the export authorization requirement, Member States still enjoy a certain margin of discretion.  They may continue to grant export authorizations where no threat is posed to the availability of PPE on the market of the Member State in question or elsewhere in the Union.

For more information, please contact us via covid19@geciclaw.com