Europe's COVID-19 funding muddle

Our COVID-19 coverage is free. Please consider a Devex Pro subscription to support our journalism.
Questions about tracking pledges for the COVID-19 response were raised after finding out that most of the "additional pledges" were announced months ago. Photo by: Robert Anasch on Unsplash

BRUSSELS — Organizers of last week’s European Commission-led COVID-19 pledging summit celebrated achieving an “additional” €6.15 billion ($6.91 billion) in commitments for the global response — but most of that money was first announced months ago, Devex has confirmed.

Rockers and The Rock unite to boost COVID-19 funding momentum

The European Commission co-hosted a pledging extravaganza in a bid to draw in more companies and philanthropic donors.

On Saturday, the European Union executive and advocacy group Global Citizen co-hosted a virtual pledging summit and concert that combined debates and music performances with statements from celebrities, business leaders, and heads of state.

After a first commission-led virtual summit on May 4 focused on diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines, last week’s event broadened the call for funding to help vulnerable communities recover from the pandemic. Global Citizen portrayed the event as a chance to bring in more private contributors and philanthropies, yet of the €6.15 billion that organizers said had been raised, €4.9 billion — mostly in the form of loans — came from the European Investment Bank.

The bank said in a press release Saturday that the money would “finance economic recovery, stronger health systems and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in all countries outside of the EU.”

But the money had already been announced. An EIB spokesperson told Devex that the €4.9 billion comes from its already public contribution to the “Team Europe” global coronavirus response — an effort by European institutions and member states to promote the cumulative resources they are reorienting to fight COVID-19 and its effects outside the bloc.

That approach was first announced by the commission and presented to development officials from EU states on April 8, when EIB offered €5.2 billion to the Team Europe package, which totaled roughly €20 billion at the time. By June 8, the total response was almost €36 billion, including €6.77 billion from EIB.

“When we have a pledging moment such as the #UnitedAgainstCoronaVirus pledging events on May 4 and 27 June, we have used this opportunity to further update on our progress.”

— European Investment Bank spokesperson

All of the €4.9 billion pledged by EIB on Saturday was part of the bank’s contribution to Team Europe by June 8, the EIB spokesperson confirmed. Most of it was also part of the bank’s €5.2 billion commitment announced in April, although at that stage, the regional spread of the loans had yet to be defined, the spokesperson said. The figure increased between April and June, partly due to greater investment needs identified in the Western Balkans, they added.

An indicative breakdown of the €4.9 billion, shown to Devex by EIB, shows roughly €2 billion planned for the Western Balkans and Turkey, €2.1 billion for countries neighboring the EU, €430 million for sub-Saharan Africa, and €325 million for Latin America and the Caribbean.

That comes on top of another €1.86 billion of EIB funds earmarked for the Team Europe package and announced at the first pledging summit on May 4, including €1.03 billion in loans designed to support health systems in sub-Saharan Africa.

EIB insisted it had always been transparent with the commission, which identified itself as a partner in the €4.9 billion pledge, and with Global Citizen, which took on the role of checking that funds were eligible to be pledged on Saturday, about the money being drawn from its Team Europe contribution.

“When we have a pledging moment such as the #UnitedAgainstCoronaVirus pledging events on May 4 and 27 June, we have used this opportunity to further update on our progress,” the EIB spokesperson told Devex by email. “That’s in line with the pledging parameters of this public event which is aimed at communicating with citizens.”

The EIB spokesperson welcomed the two pledging conferences, saying they had led to “increased coordination of efforts, accelerated delivery, and a reprioritisation of investments to meet the most pressing needs.”

Before announcing a final pledge, Global Citizen said all donors must satisfy criteria, including that commitments “need to be ​announced for the first time​ on the Global Citizen stage and/or platform.”

A spokesperson from public relations firm Weber Shandwick, representing Global Citizen, told Devex by email Thursday that “the June 27 event was the first pledge of the €4.9 bn.”

“The June 27 pledging conference turned an indicative figure, that Team Europe initially proposed in April, into an actual pledge that was approved and announced in June with a specific allocation of where the funds go. This amount has not been pledged or counted as part of another campaign.”

That may depend on how you define “campaign.” Team Europe’s growing fundraising efforts, which have included most of Saturday’s €4.9 billion from EIB since April, have been tweeted by EU leaders and featured in press releases for months. Though EIB has a regional breakdown for the €4.9 billion, the amounts could still change at the margins.

“Global Citizen was informed that the 4.9bn euros was politically endorsed on June 8. Our understanding is that the EIB only presented this as a proposal in April. But the endorsement at EU level, including indicative regional breakdowns, was taken on June 8,” the Global Citizen spokesperson wrote.

A commission spokesperson said the pledging event was “a great success for the worldwide pledging marathon efforts, but we all know that much more funding will be needed to ensure universal, fair, and affordable access to new solutions to detect, treat, and prevent COVID-19. And as the European Commission president has said, Europe is in this for the long haul.”

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen professed surprise about the €6.15 billion result Saturday. “Our goal today was to raise money for vaccines, tests, and treatments to beat coronavirus, and we did it!” she said at the end of the event. “I mean, I just got the information that we raised an incredible amount of money. This is fantastic. I’m blown away.”

Other pledges that Global Citizen reported Saturday included $1.5 billion in new grants to address the health-related impact of the pandemic and a commitment from the Serum Institute of India to allocate 50% of its COVID-19 vaccine production capacity to low- and middle-income countries.

Just $389 million was raised for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator however, despite the World Health Organization pointing out the day before the summit that it still needs $31.3 billion to fulfill its mission focused on vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, and distribution in the pandemic response.

Kalipso Chalkidou, director of global health policy at the Center for Global Development, told Devex that given the flurry of COVID-19 pledging conferences, it was important to understand “who is paying what, who is committing taxpayers’ money, through which channels, and for what.”

“Then we can disagree about why we are doing it,” Chalkidou said. “But right now there is not much room to disagree because we don’t know what’s happening. I can’t understand what’s going on.”

Jenny Lei Ravelo contributed reporting from Manila.

About the author

  • Vince Chadwick

    Vince Chadwick is the Brussels Correspondent for Devex. He covers the EU institutions, member states, and European civil society. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, he was social affairs reporter for The Age newspaper, before moving to Europe in 2013. He covered breaking news, the arts and public policy across the continent, including as a reporter and editor at POLITICO Europe.