29th Sep 2023

EU 'still not' ready for future pandemic, MEP warns

  • Centre-right Spanish MEP Dolors Montserrat (l) and centre-left Belgian MEP Kathleen Van Brempt of the Covid-19 special committee talk to the press in Strasbourg (Photo: European Parliament)
Listen to article

"We were not ready," MEP Kathleen Van Brempt told reporters on Tuesday (13 June) on the Covid-19 pandemic, as the work of the European Parliament's special committee on the pandemic comes to an end.

And Van Brempt, a centre-left MEP from Belgium who chaired the committee, warned that "the answer is still no" if the question is if the EU is ready now. "Still a lot of things that need to be done," she added.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Van Brempt said that while understandably "people want to move on" from the pandemic, "it is very important that parliament has taken the time to look in depth what happened during the pandemic at the EU level".

The draft report was adopted by the special Covid-19 committee on Monday evening by 23 votes in favour, 13 against, and one abstention, and the plenary is expected to vote on it in July.

There had been an enormous 3,000 amendments tabled, and 350 compromises reached.

"If there was one failure that we all agree upon, it was the fact that there was not equal access to vaccines, and not as affordable for everybody, especially the global south. That creates further polarisation in the world, as we know being in another crisis today is something we really need to tackle as well," she said.

Asked about the MEPs and voters who remain sceptical of the vaccines or the pandemic's causes and see oppression in public Covid measures, the Belgian lawmaker said she was worried about the extent fake news forms the basis of opinions.

"The accusation that the vaccines caused many extra deaths in our societies is not based on science," MEP Van Brempt said.

"We need minority opinions, but I am very concerned about the fact that science has been put aside, and many opinions are based on fake news," she said, adding that it it is similar in the case of Ukraine and Brexit.

Both Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had snubbed the special committee which was set up in March 2022. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were the first one developed and ready to mitigate the impacts of Covid-19 infections.

Pfizer's Bourla and von der Leyen reportedly conducted personal negotiations via text message.

The committee nevertheless heard from eight other commissioners — but did not have access to the full unredacted versions of the vaccine contracts.

Schools and parliaments

One of the recommendations of the committee is not to close national parliaments during pandemics, to keep governments in check.

MEPs want the right to information and freedom of expression to be better protected, transparent decision-making processes, and parliamentary oversight at both EU and national level when emergency legislation is being adopted.

Lawmakers also suggest keeping some schools open, if the epidemiological situation allows it.

"Some countries tended to shut down schools, we said, as a general rule, secondary schools should stay open where is possible," centre-right Spanish MEP Dolors Montserrat, who was in charge of putting together the report, said that the "digital certificate proved to be effective"

MEPs also want EU countries to boost access to digital tools. Montserrat also said that the "digital certificate proved to be effective".

Some of the other proposals include investing more in healthcare, introducing surveillance plans on emerging health threats, and carrying out stress tests on national healthcare systems.

MEPs also urged increasing transparency for joint procurement activities, improving the EU's strategic autonomy on key pharmaceutical ingredients and medicines, and developing an EU strategy to tackle "long Covid".

MEPs called for international investment and coordination to be increased to scale up vaccines production globally, reinforcing the cooperation between the EU and the World Health Organisation (WHO) and for a constructive solution to be found on intellectual property protection.

"The next commission needs to take this report as a sort of basis when working on both health care and health systems, and on becoming much more crisis resilient," Van Brempt said.


The pandemic EU billions? Follow the money (or don't)

This is the first time the EU has raised money collectively – some called it Europe's New Marshall Plan – and if the process is seen to fail, it could shatter the frail trust in the European project.


The Covid-19 pandemic took everyone by surprise

All important future challenges - climate protection, digitalisation, strong public health care - call for massive and comprehensive investment programmes.

Poland's culture of fear after three years of abortion 'ban'

Poland in 2020 imposed a near-total ban on abortion, triggering mass protests — and today the demands for access to safe abortion continue. On International Safe Abortion Day, dozens gathered in Brussels calling for solidarity among member states.

EU Ombudsman warns of 'new normal' of crisis decision-making

Emily O'Reilly cited the post-pandemic recovery funds, the windfall taxes on energy companies, and the joint purchase of vaccines, as procedures which received limited scrutiny from the national parliaments — as a result of emergency decision-making powers that bypassed parliament.


Time for a reset: EU regional funding needs overhauling

Vasco Alves Cordeiro, president of the European Committee of the Regions, is advocating a revamp of the EU's regional policy so that it better supports all regions in addressing major challenges such as the green and digital transitions.


How do you make embarrassing EU documents 'disappear'?

The EU Commission's new magic formula for avoiding scrutiny is simple. You declare the documents in question to be "short-lived correspondence for a preliminary exchange of views" and thus exempt them from being logged in the official inventory.

Latest News

  1. Poland's culture of fear after three years of abortion 'ban'
  2. Time for a reset: EU regional funding needs overhauling
  3. Germany tightens police checks on Czech and Polish border
  4. EU Ombudsman warns of 'new normal' of crisis decision-making
  5. How do you make embarrassing EU documents 'disappear'?
  6. Resurgent Fico hopes for Slovak comeback at Saturday's election
  7. EU and US urge Azerbijan to allow aid access to Armenians
  8. EU warns of Russian 'mass manipulation' as elections loom

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators, industry & healthcare experts at the 24th IMDRF session, September 25-26, Berlin. Register by 20 Sept to join in person or online.
  2. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  3. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  4. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators & industry experts at the 24th IMDRF session- Berlin September 25-26. Register early for discounted hotel rates
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  2. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  3. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics
  6. EFBWWEFBWW calls for the EC to stop exploitation in subcontracting chains

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us