EP recommendations to address future health crises

July 2023
By Maximilian Powell

Last Wednesday, the European Parliament Plenary unanimously endorsed a comprehensive report titled “COVID-19 Pandemic: Lessons Learned and Recommendations for the Future“. The report, which received 385 votes in favor, 193 against, and 63 abstentions, evaluates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and provides insights to guide member states and the European Commission in enhancing the European response to health crises.

Many in Brussels see the adoption of this report as a significant milestone in the EU’s journey towards a more crisis-resilient and future-proof health union. It proposes key measures, including enhancing the EU’s strategic autonomy in the field of medicines, ensuring transparency in joint procurement activities, and strengthening parliamentary oversight at both EU and national levels for emergency legislation.

In the report, MEPs urge for additional recovery funding to strengthen the single market and advocate for improved global coordination through an upcoming international pandemic treaty. The report also emphasises the importance of applying the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to other health issues, suggesting the exploration of crisis-developed practices such as stockpiling essential equipment, investing in innovative detection techniques, and coordinating joint procurement in areas like rare diseases and cancer.

During the debate preceding the vote, Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas conveyed to MEPs that the clearest lesson from the pandemic is the effectiveness of European unity in action.

Dolors Montserrat, a Spanish centre-right MEP who acted as the rapporteur, highlighted the report’s collaborative nature and praised the EU’s response to the pandemic, including securing vaccines, NextGenerationEU funds, and preparedness for future health emergencies.

However, the report has not been without controversy.

Intellectual property (IP) rights emerged as a contentious issue during the committee’s deliberations, sparking debates among MEPs from various political groups. The report aligns with the World Trade Organization’s agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) by emphasizing legitimate policy measures that governments can adopt to protect public health and highlighting the role of IP protection in fostering global innovation and research. Despite proposed amendments to remove certain paragraphs related to IP protection, the final text maintained its stance. Tilly Metz, the Luxembourgish shadow rapporteur for the Greens, expressed disappointment, claiming that sharing IP rights and know-how could have saved lives and called for improved access mechanisms in the future.

Some lawmakers noted the report’s failure to address the lack of transparency surrounding vaccine contracts worth up to 71 billion euros. MEPs from both the far left and far right criticised Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s absence from the plenary debate.

Established in March 2022, the COVI committee has been working to assess the impact of the pandemic on EU systems and conducted extensive consultations, including hearings, workshops, and discussions with experts, policymakers, and healthcare professionals. COVI committee Chair, Kathleen Van Brempt (BE, S&D) stated that it is now the European Commission’s responsibility to consider these recommendations and propose measures to shape a more robust and prepared EU. She emphasized the importance of evaluating the EU’s role in the global response to the pandemic and committing to international cooperation and solidarity, particularly with partners in the Global South.

With the adoption of this report, the committee concludes its work, with attention swiftly moving to the newly established Parliament Subcommittee on Public Health.