Faced with a global health crisis of unprecedented scale, the CoR president called for an EU Health Emergency Mechanism to ensure that the EU is better equipped in future. The call was supported by CoR Conference of Presidents. Although the EU institutions have actively supported the Member States in their fight against COVID-19, more needs to be done – now and in the future – to help local and regional authorities in their health and emergency response.
The opinion would lay down the political and strategic objectives of the new EU Health Emergency Mechanism, reflecting on how to go beyond the existing legal framework to set up the new, more flexible and quicker tool to act faster, more decisively and targeting the most affected regions.
The opinion should provide a political reading of the EU HEM proposal and provide guidance on its strategic implementation.
The overall objective should be to assist immediately affected territories and in the longer term reflect on how to improve the resilience of Europe's cities and regions.
In July 2020, the rapporteur participated as a speaker at the Webinar on "COVID-19: Responding, Re-opening and Recovery Towards Resilience of Cities" that was organised jointly by UNDRR, WHO, UCLG and ICLEI, discussing the lessons learnt from COVID from the perspective of her sub-national jurisdiction as well as her role as a member of the Committee of the Regions.
In September 2020, the rapporteur took the floor at the 70th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe (online), highlighting the role of local and regional authorities at the forefront in the fight against COVID-19 and inviting the participants to make use of the CoR's Covid-19 Exchange Platform. On the Health Emergency Mechanism, she stressed the need to coordinate EU action and support. She also mentioned critical areas such as increased focus on cross-border cooperation and digitalisation in the field of health.
In September 2020, the rapporteur participated in the conference on Strengthening Older People's Rights in Times of Digitalisation – Lessons learned from Covid-19. Building on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, the event put forward recommendations for EU and national policy actions.
In October 2020, the rapporteur opened and participated in the panel of a workshop on Cohesion Policy in Health: Investing in healthy and socially-just regional development (in the framework of EWRC). Ms Sacrédeus mentioned different EU-level tools that complement Cohesion Policy funding and support health policies and investments at regional level, namely the new EU4Health Programme, RescEU, and the ECDC, and highlighted the importance of digital health solutions.
In November 2020, the European Commission published a Communication on Building a European Health Union to improve preparedness and resilience, outlining immediate and longer-term aims and objectives along with measures to achieve them. The Commission has put forward proposals to strengthen the EU’s health security framework, increase preparedness at the EU and national levels, improve data reporting on health care systems crisis coordination and reinforce health surveillance powered by artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies. Drawing lessons learned from the current crisis, the proposals aim to ensure stronger preparedness and response during the current and future health crises.
The package largely responds to all of the CoR's main calls, suggestions and proposals. It includes proposals to extend the mandates of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the European Medicines Agency so that they can better support the EU countries and the Commission. Moreover, the Commission is proposing:
More and better EU interventions (Emergency declaration at EU-level to ensure EU measures; EU Health Task Force and training for healthcare staff; Stronger EU guidance on common response measures and implementation responsibilities)
More and better data (State-of-the-art monitoring of epidemiological situation; Risk assessment based on common data)
Better testing and contact tracing (A new authority to develop and procure biomedical and other solutions to enable better testing and contact tracing)
Better preparedness planning (Harmonised EU, national and regional preparedness and response plans; Regular auditing and stress-testing of national preparedness plans)
Ensure supplies of medicines and protective equipment (Monitoring of medicines and medical devices supply; The new authority to develop and procure biomedical products to ensure fast response to urgent needs in health emergencies).
Moreover, EU countries can place orders via joint procurement for personal protective equipment, ventilators, laboratory equipment, therapeutic remdesivir, Intensive Care Units medicines (analgesics, antibiotics, muscle relaxers, anaesthetics, resuscitation, etc.)
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
- proposes to set up an EU health emergency mechanism to coordinate EU action and support to assist national, regional and local healthcare and disaster preparedness structures to respond effectively to health threats and crisis situations, to ensure effective cooperation and coordination on preparedness and response with competent international organisations, to coordinate European distribution of essential medical equipment, to improve the supply of essential medical equipment through joint procurement initiatives and monitor the supply chain for essential products;
- notes that the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the vital importance of European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and urges the Member States and the Commission to work together to strengthen and develop its role in combating major health scourges;
- calls on the Member States and the European Commission to establish a permanent European Strategic Stockpile as the EU's repository of antibiotics, vaccines, chemical antidotes, antitoxins and other critical medical supplies in order to guarantee the availability of an "emergency reserve" and coordinate prompt distribution and delivery of essential resources across Europe;
- calls for efforts to rapidly acquire key basic substances, increase production of testing kits and other medical devices where there are shortages, and launch the development and production of essential medicines on European soil by promoting research and innovation and creating incentives for manufacturers, in order to reduce the dependency on third countries;
- expresses its strong support for multilateral cooperation to develop safe and effective vaccines, diagnostics and treatment, and for fair funding and distribution of future vaccines and medicines;
- calls for more action to counter the dissemination of misinformation about COVID-19, treatments for it and vaccines against it online and through other channels.