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Local governments call for investment in EU healthcare systems, focusing on the capacity to react to crises  

The European Committee of the Regions' Commission for Natural Resources (NAT) debated the damage caused by Coronavirus, its impact on local communities and an EU Health Emergency Mechanism. At the meeting on 18 June, members also discussed opinions on cross-border healthcare, sustainable use of natural resources on the ​Mediterranean islands and a strategy for rural revival.

The COVID-19 pandemic clearly demonstrates the importance of skilled and highly-trained staff, but also well-funded, well-equipped and robust healthcare systems with capacity to adapt to a new situation fast. That's why the European Committee of the Regions supports the European Commission's proposal for a €750bn Next Generation EU recovery instrument reinforcing the newly proposed long-term €1100bn EU multi-annual financial frameworks for the period 2021-2027 with a new stand-alone programme for health with almost EUR 10bn and a reformed programme on civil protection and resilience.

Opening the discussion on EU Health Emergency Mechanism, Birgitta Sacrédeus (SE/EPP), Member of Dalarna County Council said "The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how fragile our health systems are. We need to substantially strengthen our healthcare systems and develop the EU's emergency and disaster response capacities. We are proposing to set up a Health Emergency Mechanism to ensure effective cooperation and coordination on readiness and response at EU, national, regional and local level, to coordinate distribution of essential medical equipment and to improve essential medical supply across Europe, among other things."

The opinion highlights the importance of mutual assistance and cooperation in cross-border healthcare, including transport of patients and transfer of medical professionals to alleviate the pressure on health systems in the worst affected EU regions.

NAT members suggest setting up an "EU health emergency mechanism" in order to coordinate EU action and support for national, regional and local disaster response structures during health threats and crisis situations. The opinion calls on the Member States and the Commission to establish a permanent European Strategic Stockpile (ESS) of antibiotics, vaccines, chemical antidotes, antitoxins, and other critical medical supplies.

The opinion stresses the urgent need to develop COVID-19 vaccines and urges the EU legislator to heed the Committee's call to strengthen EU cooperation on the development, production and distribution of vaccines, complementing public and private medical research. Members debated also the Opinion on Cross-border health care  presented by Karsten Uno Petersen (DK/PES), a member of Southern Denmark Regional Council. The rapporteur stressed: "The COVID-19 pandemic proved how important the issue of cross-border healthcare can be for Europeans. Seeing patients being treated across borders was the best image of what solidarity really means. Let us make use of what we learned from this emergency to improve our cross-border healthcare systems and provide people living in border regions with simplified procedures and patient safety, but also clear information for both them and healthcare workers. We are talking about 40% of Europe's territories and one third of the population of our Union who could benefit from an improved European framework." Making sure that citizens can access health services close to home as easily as possible, while providing safeguards for regional and national health systems, are key concerns of this opinion.

NAT members eventually adopted an opinion drafted by Francina Armengol i Socías (ES/PES), President of the Government of the Balearic Islands, entitled Towards sustainable use of natural resources within the Mediterranean insular context. The rapporteur, represented by alternate member Antonio Vicens Vicens (ES/PES), Director-General for External Relations of the Government of the Balearic Islands, urges the European Commission to draw up a Mediterranean Island Strategy given the unique geographical and geostrategic situation of the Mediterranean islands. The document stresses that, on the Mediterranean islands, public authorities and socio-economic actors face specific daily difficulties related to the management and protection of fragile and scarce natural resources. The European Mediterranean islands are home to 95% of the island inhabitants of the European Union and, together with the rest of the islands in the Mediterranean, they share common challenges, problems and constraints that hinder their economic development.

All these opinions are scheduled to be adopted at the plenary session on 12 October 2020.

Members held an exchange of views on the opinion on an EU strategy for rural revival, currently being drafted by rapporteur Councillor Enda Stenson (IE/EA), a member of Leitrim County Council. The current pandemic has added an additional dimension and urgency to the quest for rural revival in regions across the European Union. This crisis has exposed and exacerbated the consequences of a number of long-standing threats faced by rural areas. Firstly, prolonged depopulation has left rural areas deserted and feeling neglected by EU policies. The objective for formulating a real agenda for rural revival must incorporate support for sustainable and vibrant rural communities, enterprise, employment and job creation, improve digital and infrastructure connectivity, maximise the potential for rural tourism and embrace rural areas' creativity and cultural potential.

Meeting documents
Read here Updates on the COVID-19 crisis the latest edition of the bulletin of the NAT commission. 


Wioletta Wojewodzka
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