The European Health Union, the answer to future health crises

The major challenges we face today know no boundaries. We have been aware for some time that Europe’s response to climate change or to the challenges posed by migration, to name but two, will only come through the coordinated efforts of the European Union and its Member States. But the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that the fight against health threats must now be added to the list.

In fact, one of the lessons that the health crisis caused by Covid-19 has taught us is that it is not just the measures taken in this struggle that are important, but also at what level they are taken. In this regard, it is clear that Europe needs to be strengthened by increasing the space the Treaties give the community, while respecting the current jurisdiction of the states, since it is at the European level where certain decisions will be most effective. However, a Europe-wide strengthening does not rule out that many decisions must be adapted to each territory, and therefore subsidiarity is key to finding solutions that fit the diverse needs of the entire continent. This is even more evident in the case of countries such as Catalonia, where we have exclusive authority over health.

On the other hand, in light of the initial uncoordinated, clumsy response from the states at the onset of the current pandemic, it is clear that this ordeal cannot be repeated, that we need to be better prepared EU-wide for possible new health emergencies.

For all these reasons, we must welcome the proposal by the European Commission of a European Health Union presented last November. It is a series of actions that should provide all citizens with adequate care in the event of a crisis, and provide the EU with the necessary tools to prevent and manage health emergencies that affect the entire continent. A European Health Union that protects the health of all citizens of the Union, and in turn our economies.

The EC specifically proposes three regulations that together establish a comprehensive legal framework to respond to serious cross-border health risks. The new regulations make it possible to adopt common measures throughout the EU, to declare a public health emergency throughout the Union, and to establish an integrated—i.e. coordinated—system to monitor the evolution of infectious diseases, with data based on common methodologies; to make firm recommendations for measures to combat epidemic outbreaks; and to continuously monitor situations that may lead to medication and medical supply shortages in future crises, amongst others. The Commission also proposes to strengthen the mandate and competencies of two key agencies, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, and the European Medicines Agency, and to create a new one specifically responding to health emergencies.

The current pandemic has taught us that European governance of health emergencies needs to be greatly improved. Let us therefore take this opportunity to strengthen the role of the EU in preventing and acting effectively in the face of such situations. European coordination must be a valuable tool to stop the next virus that will change our lives.

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