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A European Health Union

On November 11, the European Commission announced that it was the taking first steps to build a European Health Union, reports Lina Kolesnikova 

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The criticism of EU institutions and their leadership during and after the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic raised a debate about the role of the EU in dealing with sanitary crises. This came after accusations about a lack of solidarity and failures in communication, as well as the absence of a co-ordinated health response. Image: Viktoriia Uskova/123rf


Since the summer of 2020, EU institutions have been trying to save face in the eyes of public opinion by proposing a change in the current status quo of the Treaty of Lisbon (2007), which suggests that in the field of health, the European Union has only a supporting competence: it can only intervene to support, co-ordinate or complement the actions taken by the member states.

However, the immense scale of the pandemic, the number of lost lives and the general influence on all aspects of people’s lives serve to challenge this sovereign-state approach. It was realised that an approach geared only towards saving one’s own population does not work: such uncoordinated measures were not effective in overcoming the virus.

The disjointed reintroduction of internal border controls disrupted vital supply chains, while controversially confusing approaches to lockdown methods have created a feeling of chaos and fertile ground for fake news to flourish.

Health and sanitary issues should be the top concern for the EU – the pandemic has shown this very clearly.

Unfortunately, when we discuss the future of Europe, we cannot avoid these topics as other pandemics could be on the horizon.

So, the Commission is proposing to:

declare emergency situations at EU-level to ensure EU measures;
take risk management decisions at EU level;
harmonise EU, national and regional preparedness plans;
regularly audit and stress-test preparedness plans; and
monitor supply of medicines and medical devices and mitigate shortages.

It is expected that greater inputs from EU agencies as the ECDC, with its technical expertise to support common preparedness and response, and EMA in crisis management will be welcomed.

The Commission also launched a debate on a creation of a new authority that will work on EU health emergency preparedness and response. Such an authority would support the capacity to respond to cross-border chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats as well as epidemics, emerging diseases and pandemic influenza.

The Crisis Response Journal will continue to monitor and inform the readers on development of all these discussions and proposals.

Lina Kolesnikova, 30/11/2020
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