The European Business Council for Africa

The past year has taught us how crucially important health is for each and every one of us.

It has shown us how fragile our societies are and how fast everything can be turned upside down by something so small that it is invisible to the naked eye.

It has taught us that health is a precondition for our societies and economies to function.

And it has reminded us of the value of solidarity and cooperation, and being united in diversity to overcome the biggest health crisis in modern times.

The health situation in one Member State is contingent on that of others. To minimise the negative impacts on people and business, we have to work together to address health threats.

The past year has shown us that fragmentation makes all Member States more vulnerable.

We all witnessed the effects of the uncoordinated national measures during the first weeks and months of the outbreak.

We also saw the lack of readiness and preparation, with shortfalls in medical equipment, testing capacity, coordination and other areas.

In times of crisis where we are faced with health threats that transcend national borders, citizens expect the EU to take a more active role in protecting them.

2020 will forever be remembered as the year the worst global health crisis in modern times broke out. But I would also like it to be remembered as the year where we listened and lived up to the citizens demands for more Europe in the area of public health.

This is why, today, we are proposing to put in place the first building blocks of a more secure, better-prepared and a more resilient EU in the area of health.

Our EU Vaccine Strategy has already shown what we can achieve when working together. The agreement we have approved with BioNTech-Pfizer today is our fourth contract so far and a step closer to the broad and solid vaccine portfolio we have been building over the past months.

And whilst we are continuing our work 24/7 to respond to the immediate crisis, we also need to learn from the lessons over the past year and make sure we are better prepared in the future.

With today's proposals we are taking the first steps towards a European Health Union, giving us stronger legislation to act and support Member States in situations of serious cross border threats to health.

We are also making sure that our two EU Agencies who have been at the forefront of our work, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), have the necessary capacity to fully play the role we need them to.

This will be a step change for EU's collective capacity to respond and coordinate.

With today's proposals, our response will in the future be stronger and importantly be more coherent.

It will be stronger because we will be able to, together with ECDC, formally adopt recommendations on what response measures to take. It will be more coherent because our measures will use the same scientific basis. This will avoid the confusion that citizens can feel when they are faced with fundamentally different measures in place.

We will now also be able to declare an emergency situation together at EU level and activate our emergency response mechanisms to, for example, stockpile or procure the necessary equipment.

We will set up an EU Health Task Force within the ECDC that can be mobilised and deployed quickly to Member States but also to third countries in case of outbreaks of communicable diseases.

With today's proposals, we will also be better prepared.

We will be better prepared because we will develop EU and national crisis preparedness response plans that we will regularly test and audit. We will make sure that stockpiles and equipment are not only there on paper but also in reality.

We will train medical staff to give them the right skills for health emergency and preparedness so that everyone who falls sick can be properly cared for.

And we will be working with Member States on common indicators and data that gives us a precise picture of the state of readiness and capacity of health systems so shortages can be mitigated early and treatments remain available to patients.

Unfortunately, we live in a time where infectious diseases may emerge at any point and we all need to be ready for the next pandemic or health emergency.

Our proposals will also ensure that we can better anticipate health risks. ECDC will be able to develop state-of-the-art systems to monitor emerging diseases and other health threats and provide evidence for improved risk assessment, rapid real time action and informed decisions.

When it comes to the European Medicines Agency, we will empower it to closely track potential shortages of medicines and medical devices, both in view of avoiding future crisis and once a crisis is declared. No one in the EU should be left without the necessary treatment.

EMA will also have a greater role in coordinating clinical trials and vaccine research, crucial in a crisis situation where speed is of essence.

And finally, in the event of a health emergency, we need to rapidly deploy the most advanced measures, whether medical or other. We need to know the biomedical innovations that are crisis-relevant, and we need to have the capacity to develop or procure and stock the necessary items.

That is why next year, we will propose to set up an EU Health Emergency Response Authority. This can be a game changing initiative for our strategic preparedness, our ability to anticipate threats and to strengthen our common response in the EU. You will hear us call it ‘HERA'.

These measures will increase our resilience to cross-border health threats, starting with the COVID-19 crisis.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is an important day for all of us – European Parliament, Commission, citizens.

The European Health Union is about preparing for and facing up to common health threats together, as a Union. It is also about building strong EU health systems overall that can deliver better health outcomes for EU citizens in their daily lives.

But our Health Union will only be as strong the commitment of our Member States. I therefore call on them all, and the European Parliament, to join us in what must be a common effort.

Today we are laying the foundations, more building blocks will follow in the coming weeks, our Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe and Europe's Beating Cancer Plan are key examples.

We will move forward, what we all want to do together is meet citizens' expectations in a public health crisis.

Source: European Commission