Thursday

28th Jan 2021

Coronavirus

Summit cut health & research, despite second-wave fear

  • 'The selfishness of some politicians has blinded them to the best way for the EU to invest in a better future,' said Thomas Pellerin-Carlin from the Jacques Delors Institute (Photo: Hospital CLÍNIC)

The new EU4Health programme, considered a 'game-changer' for European health systems over the long-term, was drastically reduced to €1.67bn by EU leaders during the last European Council.

Following some of the worst moments of the coronavirus pandemic, the European Commission proposed in May a €9.4bn scheme to invest in prevention, crisis preparedness and a stockpile of medicines and equipment to improve health systems across Europe - as part of the EU recovery plan.

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The commission on Wednesday (22 July) referred to the sum agreed at the summit as "a good starting point" - while regretting the cuts.

"We regret that our very ambitious proposal was not followed entirely, but we are we are happy that the European Council recognises the need for a new programme for health," said spokesperson Eric Mamer.

"We had nothing prior to this European Council. It is better to start, even if you start small, than not start at all," he added.

However, the EU4Health cuts directly contradict a recent resolution of the European Parliament, which calls for a stronger role of the EU in the area of health.

MEPs urged common minimum standards for quality healthcare, to identify the weaknesses of member states' health systems, and verify that they are prepared for a likely resurgence of Covid-19.

More research, fewer resources

Moreover, lawmakers pointed out the need to strengthen the two key European health agencies the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency, as well as joint health-research.

However, the EU's research and innovation framework, specifically the Horizon Europe, also suffered major cuts on Tuesday - receiving €81bn instead of €100bn.

This would mean that - for the first time ever - there is no increase to the core research and innovation budget of the EU.

According to Thomas Pellerin-Carlin from the Jacques Delors Institute, "the selfishness of some politicians has blinded them to the best way for the EU to invest in a better future".

Additionally, the European Research Council described the situation as a paradox - while more is expected from European researches, they are offered fewer resources.

"We cannot imagine that Europe's leaders can agree to this, while at the same time relying on the dedication and skills of Europe's researchers to fight the ongoing global pandemic, and be ready to address unexpected future challenges," ERC scientific council said in a statement.

"Each year, a significant number of truly excellent proposals cannot be funded, harming the potential of Europe to be a leading region in terms of transformation and innovation," it added.

WHO worries on south Europe, Balkans

Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organization's emergencies programme, Mike Ryan, said on Wednesday that there are worrying infections trends in Europe.

"While certainly in western Europe the disease has come under control, we still have some worrying trends in southern Europe and the Balkans, so we're not out of the woods just yet in the European environment," he said, adding that this will require "sustained vigilance".

According to the latest data released by ECDC, Sweden, Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria, Spain and Croatia have some of the highest rates of new Covid-19 infections in the European Union with an average of 20 to 40 cases per 100,000 population.

Luxembourg has the highest rate with an average of 182.8 cases per 100,000 population reported during the previous 14 days.

EU Commission ready to play bigger role in health sector

The public health crisis caused by the coronavirus in member states has pushed the European Commission to play a more active in the field of health, especially funding the development of an effective Covid-19 vaccine.

Officials: Health should become EU 'critical infrastructure'

"The pandemic should be a wake-up call that the EU is facing collective risks requiring not just collective answers, but also the acknowledgement of the already existing interdependencies [of its health systems]," said one expert.

EU secures remdesivir supplies for 30,000 patients

The European Commission signed this week a €63m contract with the US-based biopharmaceutical company Gilead to secure batches of remdesivir for 30,000 patients with "severe" Covid-19 symptoms - after the US left Europe and most of the world without supplies.

How EU aims - hopefully - to secure vaccine by end of 2020

The European Commission hopes to have 30m doses of AstraZeneca's potential coronavirus vaccine before the end of this year, to be distributed on a population-based pro-rata basis among the 27 EU countries - until the 300m doses negotiated arrive.

Analysis

The EU's vaccine strategy - the key points

As the EU Commission gets entangled in a dispute with one of the vaccine producers and gets heat for the perceived slow roll-out of the vaccines, we take a look at what the EU has done and not done.

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