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Local leaders offer to support vaccine rollout and demand new measures by summer, to protect regional economies  

​In a debate with the European Commissioner for Health, CoR members call for a review of the EU's health competences and for a stronger role for local authorities based on their responsibilities

EU local and regional governments have warned of the catastrophic impact not opening borders by the summer would have on regional economies. During a debate with the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides , members of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) said that the EU and its member states have made efforts to roll out vaccines, avoiding a national vaccine war, but the absence of a clear legal EU framework had led to errors that must be avoided in the future. They offered support to tackle mistrust of vaccines, to speed up the administering of vaccines, adding that vaccine certificates are a step in the right direction but should not be considered a "silver bullet".

The presence of Commissioner Kyriakides, who spoke during the plenary, offered the opportunity to discuss the current division of health competences between the EU, national, regional and local levels of government. In the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe , members of the CoR called for a reassessment of such competences, given the shortcomings encountered in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the aim of increasing preparedness and coordination between all actors. They called on the EU and Member States to ensure that the significant role of local and regional authorities play during health crises is fully reflected, as they are key to the development of more resilient and effective health systems across Europe. The CoR expressed its willingness to take part in the debate on the "health union", based on the legal competences of regional and local authorities and of political responsibilities of regional and local leaders.

In his speech opening the debate, Apostolos Tzitzikostas , President of the CoR and Governor of the region of Central Macedonia, said: "Without solidarity, a European vaccine war would have raged, leaving many countries, regions and cities behind. Nevertheless, people want a return to normality and we must safely open Europe for the summer. A COVID-19 vaccine travel certificate is a step forward, even if alone it is not the silver bullet. This dreadful disease has shown that we need more Europe in health to be better prepared in the future and that every level of government – from the international to the local and regional level – all play a fundamental part. Our Committee stands ready to debate the health union, based on our own local and regional competencies in line with the EU's guiding principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. Only together can we do better and deliver faster. By empowering local and regional governments, we can turn around the flailing vaccine campaign and lay the foundations for more border openings in view of the summer."

Commissioner Kyriakides and members of the CoR also discussed a package of health-related measures developed since the onset of the pandemic, on the EU4Health programme, the cross-border healthcare directive, and a health emergency-management system. The CoR issued recommendations on all three themes last October.

Birgitta Sacrédeus (SE/EPP), member of Dalarna Regional Council and CoR rapporteur on the EU Health Emergency Mechanism , said: "It is very good to see the CoR's calls for an EU health-emergency mechanism taking shape, in the form of the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority . Resilience depends on preparation, and, for that, we need robust structures of cooperation and well-established lines of communication. I am confident that HERA can help villages, cities and regions to face future pandemics and the scale of the devastation seen in the past year. But we must ensure that the determinant role that local and regional authorities play in crisis situations is fully reflected."

Speaking about the EU4Health programme, which the European Parliament approved on 9 March, the CoR's rapporteur – Nathalie Sarrabezolles (FR/PES), President of the Finistère Departmental Council – said in a statement before the plenary: "The €5.1 billion provided by the EU4Health programme will fight health inequalities, ensure that medicine is affordable, strengthen our health systems, and increase cooperation between countries. Local and regional leaders fought hard to ensure adequate funding and, with our support, the European Parliament has managed to overcome the dangerous and misguided reluctance of member states to provide adequate funding for EU-level programming and support. We will continue to press for greater attention and support for the work of regions and cities in providing health care."

Karsten Uno Petersen (DK/PES), member of South Denmark Regional Council and CoR rapporteur on cross-border health care , said: "The ability to receive health care in another country has been life-saving in this crisis. So I am glad that the EU's flagship long-term health response – the EU4Health programme – recognises that cross-border cooperation has great potential to increase the efficiency of health systems. We now have to make sure that member states and the European Parliament translate this recognition into action, by simplifying access to health care when they review the cross-border health directive."

The vaccination rollout and the EU-wide standardised proof of vaccination – labelled a 'Digital Green Certificate' by the European Commission – will next be discussed by CoR members on 22 March, at a meeting of its Commission for Natural Resources (NAT).



Andrew Gardner

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