MEPs say EU must respond to future health crises ‘more quickly and efficiently’

On Monday, Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee held a preliminary discussion on the European Commission’s proposals to deal with future serious cross-border health threats.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

16 Nov 2020

The Commission’s proposal, “Building a European Health Union: preparedness and resilience”, is seen as an attempt to take over more health-related tasks from EU countries, which are traditionally responsible for health policy.

The Coronavirus crisis has seen differing national responses and a perceived lack of coordination and the Commission is now urging countries to grant more legal power to the EU and create a “Health Union” to manage future crises.

Published on 11 November, the Commission package establishes the first building blocks of a European Health Union.

On Monday, the Committee held a debate on how to better prepare the EU for possible future health threats with Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety.

The Commission says it hopes that a “health union” will pave the way for better coordination to respond to new possible health crises and also provide a deeper monitoring of the epidemiological situation in Europe.

The executive has also called for reinforced research and a swift mitigation of medicine and medical supply shortages through notably joint procurements at a European level.

Commenting on the plans, S&D coordinator on the environment committee, Jytte Guteland, said, “We are pleased that things are moving forward; these are welcome measures to strengthen Europe’s efforts to protect the health of our citizens. However, we recognize the need to continue this important work as further action is required in a number of areas.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a tragedy for all EU countries, and we will continue to work relentlessly to strengthen the Union and the EU’s health capacities to prevent future crises and react jointly in a more effective way”

Jytte Guteland, S&D

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a tragedy for all EU countries, and we will continue to work relentlessly to strengthen the Union and the EU’s health capacities to prevent future crises and react jointly in a more effective way,” added the Swedish member.

Her colleague Heléne Fritzon, S&D member responsible for health, said, “The proposals presented last week by the European Commission are in line with what the S&D is calling for and a step forward in shaping a real European Health Union.”

“We welcome the idea to enhance the capacities and the role of key EU agencies in the field of health to face the current COVID-19 pandemic and possible future ones. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) play vital roles in this regard, and we also commend the proposal to establish a new EU Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority.”

Another member of the environment committee, EPP member Peter Liese, who is also a medical doctor, said his group wants the European Union “to have all the tools on hand to both deal with and react timely to any possible future health crises.”

The German deputy added, “Amongst others, we want the European Union to be able to declare its own health emergencies as soon as they occur.”

An ECR spokesman said, “We firmly believe the EU must be capable of dealing with future health crises more quickly and efficiently. Nonetheless, any new legislative measures must be in full accordance with EU Treaty provisions on public health and consistent with the principle of subsidiarity.”

Further comment came from Roger Casale, secretary general of the campaign group, New Europeans, who said, “We are very encouraged by the announcement of a European Health Union following our call for a truly European response based on human solidarity and enlightened self-interest.”

“We firmly believe the EU must be capable of dealing with future health crises more quickly and efficiently” ECR Group spokesman

“The Commission has clearly listened to the voice of citizens as well as experts and has taken on board many of our detailed recommendations including for the setting up of a European Health Union.”

“The key now is to engage the public in the reconfiguration of healthcare in Europe. Above all we need to recognise that to prepare for future pandemics, we also need change in other policy areas, not least with respect to education, citizenship, subsidiarity and foreign relations.”

He added, “The kind of transformative change that is needed to how we live our lives and how we organise ourselves in society cannot be brought about without the consent and the ideas of citizens. That is why an all-encompassing, participatory and inclusive approach is needed, as called for by the policy call we set out on Europe Day.”

“We hope that the EU will commit to this in taking forward its plans for a European Health Union," said the former UK Labour MP.

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