President, Ministers,

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested our health systems and societies to their core, highlighting existing weaknesses in our ability to handle a large scale public health crisis.

It has shown very clearly that the EU needs more capacity to support Member States. It has shown that we need to have a stronger regulatory framework that allows us to act more quickly and from our side trigger the implementation of preparedness and response measures.

And we cannot stop at reinforcing ECDC and EMA - we need a new framework at EU level to prepare and manage health threats.

We need a stronger mandate to coordinate. This could involve new legislation or a revision of the current Decision on cross-border threats to health to allow for the development of an EU health crisis preparedness system.

Currently, Member States are only obliged to report on key capacities for preparedness and response every three years, and without setting measurable standards and targets. This means the information on preparedness plans and actual capacities in Member States is limited. It is crucial that we have a better overview of our collective response capacities. 

In this context, I would welcome the idea of an EU health crisis and pandemic preparedness plan undertaken jointly by the ECDC and Member States and covering all relevant response measures.

In parallel, the ECDC should be enabled to produce risk assessments of the situation also in third counties.

However, many of these improvements require a stronger, integrated surveillance system at EU level to detect early signals, increasing the collective capacity of the EU and its Member States for accurate risk assessment and rapid response.

Together with ECDC, we must maximise the potential of electronic health records, big data analytics and artificial intelligence.

As the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak highlighted, there are important weaknesses in our stockpiling capacities. Going forward, we should examine the feasibility of large-scale centralised procurement of essential public health goods.

The crisis has also shown that we need to have structures in place for the rapid development of medicines. We must be able to ensure timely access to essential medicines and medical devices.

So far, we have partly relied on ad-hoc structures. These have their limits, and we will need to review our processes and strengthen our agencies, including ECDC and EMA -- and how they interact.

We are still on a difficult journey during which we are still learning. I am aware that much of what our citizens are expecting from us all, of the frustration, the sadness and loss of lives. All of us, the Commission and Member States has had to face an unprecedented health crisis, with different challenges every day.

We are still in the middle of managing the biggest health crisis in modern times, but we cannot delay these reforms. We must reinforce our systems and structures now – strategically and decisively. And we must do this together!

I am looking forward to your ideas and suggestions on the way forward.