The European Commission is beginning the building of the new European Health Union to help strengthen the EU’s health security framework, and to reinforce the crisis preparedness and response role of key EU agencies.
The creation of the European Health Union was announced by the European Commission‘s President, Ursula von der Leyen, in her State of the Union address.
The Commission is putting forward a set of proposals to reinforce Europe’s health framework as more co-ordination is needed at an EU level in order to step up the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and future health emergencies.
Protecting the health of European citizens
The proposals focus on revamping the existing legal framework for serious cross-border threats to health, as well as reinforcing the crisis preparedness and response role of key EU agencies such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen stated: “Our aim is to protect the health of all European citizens. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for more coordination in the EU, more resilient health systems, and better preparation for future crises. We are changing the way we address cross-border health threats. Today, we start building a European Health Union, to protect citizens with high quality care in a crisis and equip the Union and its Member States to prevent and manage health emergencies that affect the whole of Europe.”
A health security framework
The Commission is proposing a new regulation on serious cross-border threats to health. The new framework aims to strengthen preparedness, reinforce surveillance using Artificial Intelligence and other advanced technological means, and improve data reporting of health systems indictors, such as bed availability and intensive care capacity.
The declaration of an EU emergency situation would also trigger increased co-ordination and allow for the development, stockpiling, and procurement of crisis relevant products.
COVID-19 has shown that the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the European Medicines Agency, which have both been at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis, need to be reinforced and equipped with stronger mandates to better protect EU citizens and address cross-border health threats.
The reinforcement of both agencies will help them support the Commission and Member States in areas such as epidemiological surveillance, capacity to mobilise and deploy EU Health Task Force to assist local response in Member States, building a network of EU reference laboratories and a network for substances of human origin, monitoring and mitigating the risk of shortages of critical medicines and medical devices, and more.
The Commission has also set out the main elements of the future Health Emergency Response Authority (HERA), to be proposed by the end of 2021.
Vice-President for Promoting the European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “Today, we are taking a big, meaningful step towards a genuine EU Health Union. We are strengthening our common crisis management to prepare and respond to serious cross-border threats to health. Our EU agencies need to be equipped with stronger mandates to better protect EU citizens. To fight the COVID-19 pandemic and future health emergencies, more coordination with more efficient tools at EU level is the only way forward.”