EU member states and the European Parliament on Thursday (June 23) reached a tentative agreement on a long-awaited file on serious cross-border threats to health. Parliament reporter Veronique Trillet-Lenoir told Uraactive that the deal has a strong focus on prevention.
After months of technical meetings to resolve disagreements on file – one of the major initiatives of the European Health Union – the provisional agreement finally landed in the final days of the French EU presidency.
Reporter and liberal MEP Trillet-Lenoir said, “Parliament has got about 80% of its priorities. We could have heard better about transparency, but there is improvement.
The parties have agreed on a wide range of measures in preparation for future health crises, and the Commission can identify public health emergencies at the EU level to trigger appropriate preventive measures more quickly.
This will ensure that stress tests are carried out to ensure preparedness and response plans with input from member states and that the Health Security Committee has a strengthening role in supporting prevention and control.
Trilette-Lenoir said parliament would be able to get more involved in crisis preparedness and partial response by taking seats on the Health Security Committee and the Health Emergency and Response Authority (HERA) crisis board.
HERA has previously been criticized for its lack of transparency and involvement in parliament. Now, the commission will evaluate by 2024 to determine whether the commission should be a separate entity from the commission.
Some of the major disagreements between the Council and Parliament are found in Article 4 relating to the Health Security Committee, Article 5 on the Coalition’s preparedness and response plan, and Article 12 on the joint procurement of medical strategies.
Fight for more transparency
Parliamentary pressure to engage more in the work of such health authorities is part of a wider quest for transparency in infectious processes, which has been a hotly debated point across COVID-19, EURACTIV has frequently reported in the past two years.
“We have improved and stabilized joint purchasing procedures by improving transparency towards Parliament and the public,” Trilet-Lenoir said of the deal.
This includes making sure that Member States do not have parallel procurement negotiations, purchasing the same products at the EU level.
Thursday’s agreement restricts the commission from giving MEPs access to joint procurement agreements, but the issue of how much trade secrets must be protected is fluffy.
In the revised edition of the COVID-19 vaccine agreements published by the Commission, parts about prices, liability and other central issues that are not based on protecting commercial interests have been made public – the Commission continues to use.
Trilette-Lenoir hopes more transparency can be achieved by engaging pharmaceutical companies in more discussions.
“It’s in the hands of the commission, but mostly in the hands of pharmaceutical companies. Discussions with pharmaceutical companies are always easier with the voice of citizens and their representatives,” he said.
“So the Parliament and the patient- and civil unions work together with pharmaceutical companies to improve the situation,” Trilet-Lenoir added.
Prevention takes center stage
The main disagreement during the negotiations revolved around Article 5, the Union’s preparedness and response plan. Tensions rely mainly on the use of the word ‘prevention’ in the text – in addition the council was not enthusiastic.
For Member States, health is often a sensitive field, who are keen to keep it firmly within the boundaries of their national capabilities. Throughout the negotiations, he worried that the inclusion of the word “prevention” would open up the possibility of crossing the line.
In the end, they were convinced. According to Trilette-Lenoir, this will be the “key” to avoiding or better managing the crisis in the future.
At the same time, they say a health care approach – The principle of recognizing that human and animal health are interrelated – is also a part of the contract.
“[This] This is important because this file is aimed at preventing and preparing not only epidemic crises but also environmental, biological and food crises, ”he said.
Accepting this means that the Council has received assurances on issues such as the pre-assessment period on purchase agreements and that they will be able to operate freely as individual countries.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]