EU unveils plans for Health Union

The European Commission on Wednesday unveiled its plans for a European Health Union so that the European Union (EU) could attain a better position to address health crises such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

EU officials have admitted that the bloc witnessed a lack of preparation and coordination at the early phase of the pandemic in spring. The commission chief Ursula von der Leyen floated the idea of learning the lessons and setting up a Health Union during her State of the Union address in September.

“The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for more coordination in the EU, more resilient health systems, and better preparation for future crises,” von der Leyen said in a statement on Wednesday.

The new proposals would enable high-quality care provision and better management of health emergencies, she added.

The proposals focus on revamping the existing legal framework for serious cross-border threats to health, as well as reinforcing the crisis preparedness and response role of key EU agencies, such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Under the framework, a modern and smart surveillance system will be created at the EU level and the EU member states will be required to step up their reporting of public health data. Moreover, the 27-member bloc will be able to declare an emergency situation at the EU level and activate response mechanisms such as common stockpile and procurement, according to the health commissioner Stella Kyriakides.

ECDC will have the capacity to mobilize and deploy a health task force to assist local response in member states and help building a network of EU reference laboratories. EMA’s enforced mandate will enable monitoring and mitigating the risk of shortages of critical medical supplies and coordinating studies to monitor the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, among others.

A proposal for the establishment of an EU Health Emergency Response Authority (HERA) will be tabled by 2021.

“This can be a game-changing initiative for our strategic preparedness, our ability to anticipate threats and to strengthen our common response in the EU,” said Kyriakides.