Six countries have raised questions over the EU’s response to the coronavirus and called for the bloc to improve its pandemic preparedness, according to a letter obtained by POLITICO.
“The present situation has raised questions about Europe’s preparedness for pandemics and underlined the need for a common European approach,” read the letter initiated by Denmark and signed by France, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Poland, sent to the Commission on Tuesday.
The countries pointed out issues with medical supply shortages and uncoordinated responses to the coronavirus by member countries. One key proposal is to create a stockpile of critical medicines, protective gear, medical devices and vaccines that could supply the entire EU for three months in an emergency.
The six countries also proposed coordinating the development of a coronavirus vaccine, “possibly” with EU funds, “as this would accommodate the urgent need of enabling EU to speed up the time from the outbreak of a future pandemic to the successful deployment of a vaccine.”
They raised the possibility of guaranteed public purchasing of a coronavirus vaccine, and said Brussels should consider using EU money for large-scale clinical trials of possible COVID treatments.
The move comes as a growing number of voices are calling for the EU to do more on health. The Commission is pushing for more power — within the framework of current treaties — through its planned new €9.4 billion EU4Health program.
The letter backs more pandemic preparedness while staying within Brussels’ current competence. “The stakes are high and a solution will require a holistic approach that draws on a wide range of instruments in the EU toolbox including industrial policy, research, digitization and EU funding,” it read.
Commission chief spokesperson Eric Mamer told reporters Wednesday that the Commission welcomed the letter and had done much to tackle many issues it raised. The Commission will discuss a vaccine strategy next week, and proposed ideas to increase European drug manufacturing in its industrial strategy, he said.
“We think that the letter goes in the direction of what the Commission is putting in place and has proposed to member states to put in place, in particular through Next Generation EU and the next [seven-year EU budget],” Mamer said.
The letter presented some ideas for handling drug shortages, which have increased during the coronavirus outbreak, especially with emergency room drugs.
Those include using incentives to relocate the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients to Europe; requiring companies to diversify their supply chains; and setting more “permanent antitrust guidelines” in times of crisis to increase production of goods.
The countries also called for an “efficient division of labor within the EU in order to optimize European production,” including through legal commitments and cooperation agreements so expertise from certain countries gets to the rest of the EU.
“Amidst growing global trade tensions, preventing protectionism will be key,” the countries wrote, especially for “important trading partners” and developing countries that rely on EU imports.
The countries also asked the EU to examine existing mechanisms, such as the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism, rescEU and joint procurement agreement, to see if they can be improved.
Another key proposal would widen the mandate of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) “to coordinate, with national health authorities, prevention and reaction plans against future epidemics within a future EU health task force.”