Sunday

17th Oct 2021

MEPs 'disappointed' at observer-status at new EU health body

  • EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the European Parliament, as the budgetary authority, will hold a key role in the new health body HERA (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)
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The Covid-19 pandemic exposed deep-rooted weaknesses in the EU's capacity to act in a health crisis - largely because its competencies are limited in this field.

But the European Commission is now using the sense of urgency of exiting the health crisis as the rationale to fast-track the creation of a new EU-wide health body, HERA - excluding the European Parliament from the legislative process.

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The new Health Emergency preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) will research and identify potential cross-border health emergencies, ensure the availability of medicines and treatments by increasing EU procurement, and facilitate coordination among member states.

HERA will not be an skilled EU agency per se, but rather a part of the commission's internal services, governed by representatives from each member state.

The European Parliament, however, would only be able to take part in the executive board as an 'observer' - a move that has triggered outrage from MEPs who demand more power beyond budgetary control.

For the commission, using this legal formula (formally known as a council regulation) was the only possibility to respond quickly to the existing threats posed by the pandemic and other diseases.

"This was never about exclusion but about moving quickly for HERA to be operating immediately," EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides told MEPs in the health committee on Monday (27 September).

She also justified the commission's decision, arguing that making HERA an EU agency would have taken up to three years of inter-institutional discussions.

But MEPs rejected this argument, claiming that they have demonstrated during the pandemic how fast the parliament can react to adopt measures in times of crisis.

'Disappointment and frustration'

"We have shown in the parliament the capacity to deliver quick results in the past, and we need that to build for the long term, so why is the European Parliament not given a full seat in the HERA board?," socialist MEP Jytte Guteland asked.

Echoing the same message, liberal MEP Véronique Trillet–Lenoir reiterated her "disappointment and frustration" with the proposal.

She said that reducing the parliament to an observer at the new authority was not aligned with "the spirit of unity and cooperation".

"We need to make sure that the parliament has a full-fledged seat at the table," said fellow liberal Belgian MEP Frédérique Ries.

Similarly, Green MEP Michele Rivasi said her group was "very disappointed" with the proposal because the parliament had since the beginning been involved in the creation of the so-called 'Health Union' - of which HERA is a key part.

"The parliament has a crucial role in defining the mandate, composition and governance of this new authority as well as exercising its control over all relevant procedures," Rivasi said.

"We should be careful [not] to build up an institution that could be tailored to the interest of the pharmaceutical firms," she warned, arguing that the commission needs to be held accountable by the parliament.

For her part, Kyriakides responded that "the parliament's voice will be there [at the HERA board]" where MEPs will be able to discuss "every single step of the way".

She added that the parliament, as the budgetary authority, holds a key role in the governance structure.

The budget for HERA will be €6bn over the next six years, but it could amount to almost €30bn (including funding from other EU programmes, such as recovery plans).

The first board meeting of this new authority is scheduled for Friday (1 October).

MEPs are currently checking with the parliament's legal services the possibilities to move forward.

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