European “health union”: pros and cons

New efforts to create a EU-wide health union seems to be the best way in establishing better, more resilient and responsive regional health system. A comprehensive and strong health union will protect citizens, facilitate sustainable growth patterns and enhance European integration. Present initiatives reflect analysis of future outbreaks, joint preparedness and planning with the states, stronger guidance during emergencies and the EU support at all stages of health crisis management, including assistance to a future EU Health Task Force.

The proposal for a European “health union” among existing ones (like energy, digital, banking, etc.) dates back a year ago the Commission focused on pandemic’s crisis measures including revising the mandates of existing health policy coordinating bodies (like European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, ECDC and European Medicines Agency, EMA) to provide stronger support and scientific orientation during extraordinary health situation. New proposals are expected to make a framework of urgent measures reflecting the lessons learnt from COVID-19 in line with a perspective European health union.

At the end of November 2021, the EU has a vital step closer to a European Health Union (EHU), which would have all necessary tools to continue both addressing post-COVID pandemic and future health crises and problems. Since the start of the pandemic, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, CDPC has been at the forefront of the EU institutions and member states’ common efforts to mitigate the unprecedented situation, providing timely and clear risk assessments and facilitating safe free movement, tracking the virus outbreak and recommending measures to control it.

Public health in Europe: a complicated issue
It has to be remembered that in the legal sense the “public health” is in the competence of the member states’ governance; e.g. even the so-called EU Digital COVID Certificate is issues by the member states.
More in: https://ec.europa.eu/info/live-work-travel-eu/coronavirus-response/safe-covid-19-vaccines-europeans/eu-digital-covid-certificate_en#how-can-citizens-get-the-certificate

As the Commission’s official website on public health reveals: “organising and delivering health care is the responsibility of national governments”; the EU’s role is to coordinate support and supplement the states’ activities/measures; besides, this competences are reflected in the EU’s basic law!
Reference to: https://ec.europa.eu/info/policies/public-health_en and https://ec.europa.eu/health/policies/overview_en

The Commission has correctly underlined recently that it is able to use a “coordinated” EU-member states approach to protect citizens’ health, equip the states with better preventive measures for future pandemics and improve resilience of Europe’s health systems.
Reference to: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_21_6473
However, it is to be noted, however, that so far the “EU-wide health system” (or EU helf union) doesn’t exist; it is rather being composed of the EU-27 member states’ health systems (in plural!). That is why present EHU’s measures include only some supporting instruments like the EU vaccines strategy (which remains the EU’s primary tool for ending the pandemic by preventing and reducing transmission of cases) and measures complemented by the EU strategy on COVID-19 therapeutics to minimize the hospitalization rates and deaths caused by the disease.
Then comes the issue of “health economy”; as the OECD’s chief economist L Boone noticed recently, it should cost $50 billion to vaccinate the world’s population compared to the $10 trillion (!) already spent on supporting the economy during the pandemic. She also argues, according to Bloomberg, that the new omicron case has shown uncertainty and imbalances in “planning the recovery”; the comparison of these two figures ($50 bn and $10 trill.) seems completely disproportional.
The expenses for the EU states’ health policies are already exceed all possible limits: the rich states can possibly manage the burden, but “new EU members” in eastern and central Europe cannot do without serious support from the EU’s funds.
More on EHU in: https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/promoting-our-european-way-life/european-health-union_en
Thus, a “strong need for a political agreement” on all proposals concerning the EHU, which is indicated by the Commission, is not enough, actually; there is certainly the need of all EU institutional support and changing responsibility’s competence between the EU and the member states. The initial step in the right direction has been done: this November, the European Parliament and the Council reached an agreement on a “reinforced role” for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The revised ECDC mandate will allow the agency to take a stronger role in supporting the EU and the member states in the prevention and control of communicable disease threats and improve European preparedness for future health challenges. The Regulation will now have to be formally adopted by the Council and the European Parliament before it can enter into force.

The EU-wide “health policy measures” could be done (without amendments in the Treaties), actually, through the so-called enhanced cooperation with about half of the EU states involved; from the Commission side the main coordinating partners are: Commission Vice-President for Promoting European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, and Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides.
Besides, a strong ECDC needs comprehensive EU-wide rules aimed at eliminating cross-border health threats and empowering the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA). Source: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_6435
More information in the following websites: -Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and the Council, amending Regulation (EC) No 851/2004 establishing a European Centre for disease prevention and control; – Factsheet EU agencies; – European Health Union

 

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