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9th May 2021

EU Commission aspires for treaty change on health

  • Over 1.3 million people have been infected with Covid-19 in the EU/EEA and the UK (as of 28 May, 2020) (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Commission is hoping for a treaty change so that it has more say on health.

"If the moment is right, it will happen," Margaritis Schinas, the vice-president of the European Commission, told reporters on Thursday (28 May).

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"Nothing is off the table," he added, noting that a debate will take place at the Conference on the Future of Europe, which is set to spell out the Union's priorities over the next two years.

"I am not now in a position to announce how this health union of the European Union will look like in the future but I think we are now at the first stage of a process that one day will make this a tangible reality," he said.

Schinas' comments follows similar recent statements by French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Both leaders earlier this month in a joint press conference evoked the idea of a European Union better prepared to tackle major health issues like the pandemic.

That political signal appears to have also emboldened the European Commission in its greater aspirations for more power over health.

The European Commission's competences on health are currently restricted. The treaty says it can only "complement national policies" and "encourage cooperation".

However, the Covid-19 pandemic showed member states were unprepared. Some shut down borders, all scrambled for medical supplies, and others even hoarded equipment meant for other EU states.

The lack of solidarity alarmed critics, among them the former European Commission president Jaques Delors. In March, he described it as a mortal danger for the European Union.

EU4Health - a first step

The European Commission has since proposed to shore up a new €750bn recovery package in the hopes of kick starting battered economies.

Part of that plan now includes a new stand alone €9.4bn programme dedicated to health. The figure is 23 times higher than current EU budget lines dedicated to health.

Dubbed the EU4Health programme, the proposal also presented on Thursday, is being described by the Commission as "a game changer, a real paradigm shift" on how the EU deals with health.

"This crisis made it clear that our collective response capacity needs to be brought and raised to a different level," said Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for health and food safety.

EU4Health would run until 2027 and aims to create long term stockpiles and reserves for medical equipment.

It also wants to create a pool of "flying" doctors that can be sent to areas of need.

The European Medicines Agency and the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) also benefit. Both agencies would have more powers when it comes to vaccines and surveillance.

"In terms of the ECDC we need to look how we can improve preparedness plans and surveillance," said Kyriakides.

The Stockholm-based ECDC was criticised for initially painting a rosy picture of the risks linked to the pandemic.

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