As we go through the second wave of the pandemic, the good news is very much needed to boost the morale of all Europeans. They finally came in the last few days, with the announcements that two vaccines have shown great results during the phase III trials and with a more coherent, consistent, and a decisive push being made for a European Health Union.
At The Good Lobby, we have argued for a long time about the importance of a strong European Health Union and its critical role in handling the current pandemic and have launched a petition calling for it back in the first week of the pandemic. We, therefore, welcome this development and are committed to taking action to ensure it does not remain just an idea but that it becomes reality.
It is encouraging to see that the EU is willing to learn from the COVID-19 crisis, and it is also encouraging that the communication put forward by the European Commission explicitly states that the unilateral action taken by various member states at the beginning of the pandemic was not the right course of action.
In light of a vaccine, these lessons are extremely important. While we can be hopeful, the efforts still needed are going to be considerable. Closer cooperation is, therefore, necessary and the fact that the Commission is explicitly calling for it is commendable, as is the fact that it is the Commission that is going to purchase and allocate the vaccines.
Also, as a result of previous mistakes, the Commission focuses its plan for action on the idea of preparedness. Indeed, its proposals are heavily focused on the idea of crisis management and cross-border cooperation. Under these proposals, what is being asked is for the capacity to declare emergency situations at EU-level and ensure EU measures; to take risk management decisions at EU level and to harmonise EU, national and regional preparedness plans which are to be regularly audited to ensure their fitness for purpose.
The Commission is also proposing a changed mandate for The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the European Medicines Agency. Among the tasks of the former would be epidemiological surveillance with a new, updated system, which uses the most recent technological developments such as Artificial Intelligence. This is likely to be a particularly delicate area as the debate between privacy and control of the pandemic through the use of personal data is bound to become more and more intense.
While not related to this proposal, another point worth making is that of ensuring the accountability of big pharmaceutical companies. In the latest update to our petition, we have called on the European Commission to ensure that rigorous standards will still apply to pharmaceutical companies and that the EU will ensure they do not engage in virus-profiteering.
We must appreciate these positive developments. This first step towards a strong European Health Union is laudable and very encouraging, but, in the end, as the Commission recognised in its communication, “The European Health Union will be as strong as its Member States’ commitment to it”. It, therefore, takes all of us, EU citizens to play our part in keeping member states accountable and responsible for making this proposal a success.
At The Good Lobby, we are determined to do play our part and have taken active steps in this regard. To support us, sign our petition here and follow the work that we are doing.