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23rd May 2022

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Talks to strengthen EU virus-alert agency stall

  • Reforms were proposed to strengthen the Stockholm-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control last November (Photo: The Focal Project)
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Plans to beef up the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) are being opposed by the Council, representing member states.

Unless the European Parliament accepts major compromises, the six-month rotating EU presidency under Slovenia will not be able to advance the reforms.

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"Based on the inter-institutional discussions so far, it is clear that the current mandate does not provide the presidency with a sufficient margin to negotiate with the European Parliament," according to an EU internal document dated 25 October.

The document outlines the dispute in reforms which aim to ensure that the Stockholm-based ECDC is better equipped to tackle future pandemics.

Although negotiations have only just started, with so far one closed-door talk and five technical meetings held, the red lines by the council appear entrenched.

Among its biggest problems are efforts by the European Parliament to create an ECDC that has "a more supervisory and prescriptive role", notes the document.

The parliament also wants its mandate to cover major non-communicable diseases like cancer, as well as impose better data-collection standards.

But the council objects to all three - preferring instead a weaker "supportive role" for the ECDC, and one that relies on data sets supplied by member states themselves.

A more detailed break down of the differences are spelled out in a four-column document, used by the inter-institutional negotiators to track sticking points.

The differences between the two sides, with the European Commission in the middle, shows the extent to which the council is reticent on transferring health-related powers to the EU.

The role of the ECDC and its weaknesses were exposed at the outset of the pandemic caused by Covid-19.

In late January 2020, it said EU countries were well prepared to tackle the pandemic.

After the initial severe outbreak and lockdown in Lombardy, northern Italy, in February, by the end of March many European states, including Germany, France and the UK were forced into lockdowns.

The back and forth on the current talks on the ECDC may also spell trouble for the European Commission's bigger plans to create a European Health Union.

The ECDC reforms are part of it. MEPs in September pressed for the reforms, with only 84 voting against and 598 in favour.

The vote followed an announcement by EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to pour some €50bn investment towards the health union.

The commission had also, last November, proposed to revise the mandate of the European Medicines Agency and a regulation to better deal with emergencies.

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