Despite a number of successes at the regional level, the European Union has initially failed the exercise of global multilateralism – as did the World Health Organization. Now is the time to learn from our mistakes and ensure we build forward together - and better.
This year’s European Health Forum Gastein is about rethinking how we, the health stakeholders, conduct health politics and how we want to feed into broader health discussions, not simply locally, but also at a regional and global level.
The COVID-19 crisis has taught us that while some elements of the pandemic response need to be implemented at local level, other layers of the response require multilateral mechanisms.
For example, the challenge of global access to vaccines and the issue of digital data sharing have exacerbated the need for further cross-country collaboration.
However, while the advance purchase agreements for COVID-19 vaccines and the implementation of a uniform system for travel passes have provided true regional successes; on a global scale, low- and middle-income countries are still struggling to access even their first COVID-19 vaccines.
Addressing these challenges requires reflection on concrete ways to revive multilateralism and redefine Europe’s positioning towards the Global South. We Europeans must challenge our own thinking - multilateralism cannot be a one-way street, determined in high-level meetings held behind closed doors.
"This year’s European Health Forum Gastein is about rethinking how we, the health stakeholders, conduct health politics and how we want to feed into broader health discussions, not simply locally, but also at a regional and global level"
We cannot expect third countries to share and provide their information at the same time as we identify and keep solutions for ourselves. The exceptional nature of the COVID-19 crisis calls for extraordinary actions and makes way for new visions.
While in “normal times”, patents are an essential tool for incentivising R&D and innovation, waiving intellectual property rights now might be the only way for Western nations to build trust with the Global South. This would send a strong signal that we stand ready for a new approach to multilateralism that works both ways.
Although waiving patents (albeit only during times of pandemics) is part of the solution, this alone will not be enough if we do not address in parallel issues pertaining to the broader framework of global health response and solidarity.
Reviving multilateralism should be an integral part of ongoing discussions on the need for a new Pandemic Treaty and a reform of the WHO. In fact, what would be the added value of a new Pandemic Treaty without multilateralism powered by a strong WHO to support its functioning?
Beyond reflection on Europe’s role on the global stage, we want this year’s European Health Forum Gastein to continue discussions on the need for a European Health Union. We will bring the Conference on the Future of Europe to Gastein, putting civil society stakeholders centre stage to collect and explore their perspectives on a new role for the EU in health.
How can we rethink the principle of subsidiarity, in light of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis? Can EU leadership on health issues be strengthened without a change to the Treaties?
"Beyond reflection on Europe’s role on the global stage, we want this year’s European Health Forum Gastein to continue discussions on the need for a European Health Union. We will bring the Conference on the Future of Europe to Gastein, putting civil society stakeholders centre stage to collect and explore their perspectives on a new role for the EU in health"
Focusing solely on COVID-19 would be a mistake. What we have seen unfold in the past months goes far beyond the management of one single disease. Health stakeholders have learned the hard way to also look for answers outside of their own field. COVID-19 has exposed weaknesses not only in health systems, but in our societies as a whole.
This is why recovering from such a complex crisis calls for a new social contract, one which addresses health, environmental, economic, social and democratic challenges in a more holistic way, in line with the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Over the last two years, we have seen how health challenges can collide with geopolitical concerns. While it is probably too early to provide sound policy solutions, the European Health Forum Gastein provides a unique platform to strengthen the dialogue between health actors across countries, areas and sectors, challenge traditional thinking.
This will help pave the way to a healthier, fairer, and more resilient society. Gastein is where the discussion begins. Join us there!