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EU approves €5 billion French plan to develop treatments to combat coronavirus

A scientist handles samples of coronavirus tests at the microbiology laboratory of the Gregorio Maranon General Hospital in Madrid on June 5, 2020.
A scientist handles samples of coronavirus tests at the microbiology laboratory of the Gregorio Maranon General Hospital in Madrid on June 5, 2020. AFP - PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU

The European Commission on Saturday approved a €5 billion scheme submitted by France to support research and development in combating the coronavirus.

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The 5 billion package, which may be funded in part by the European Union, will allow France to scale up testing and the production of coronavirus related products such as medicines, vaccines and protective clothing.

“It will contribute to the European effort in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak,”said Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s Executive Vice-President.

The EU has already approved state aid for coronavirus-related research for countries such as Ireland and Italy.

Under the French “umbrella” scheme, the government, regional and local authorities will be able to provide support to companies of all sizes who carry out research and development projects.

Research and development

Aid will cover “a significant share” of R&D project costs and investment costs for setting up testing infrastructure or building new production facilities, according to the release.

The support will come in the form of direct grants and tax advantages.

The French government said the scheme will “enhance the rapid construction of production facilities” for medicine and equipment used to treat Covid-19.

The move is part of French efforts to “rebuild national and European sovereignty.”

Vaccine row

In March, President Emmanuel Macron promised "full independence" by the end of the year in the production of protective face masks for France, which like most other countries was woefully understocked when the pandemic struck.

The approval of France’s aid scheme could help avoid future rows like the one in May, when French drug firm Sanofi said it would give the US first choice on its coronavirus vaccine, because it put $600 million toward its R&D.

The move sparked outrage in France, and a summons by Sanofi boss Paul Hudson to the Elysée Palace.

The angry reaction underlined the tensions between countries and pharmaceutical companies about the availability of a drug to stop the coronavirus. Sanofi later withdrew its ‘America first’ policy.

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