Check Against Delivery

Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to finally be able to join you in person to discuss our response to Speech Delivered by Commissioner Kyriakides to the Plenary of the European Parliament – “The EU’s public health strategy post covid-19”.

This debate comes at a key moment for our management of what is the most severe health crisis of modern times.

Today we meet as countries relax restrictions and open up for travel and as citizens take off for well-deserved summer holidays.

A chance for people and our economies to breathe after months of lockdown.

But this is an opening which comes – we all know – with considerable risk.

Whilst no one knows with certainty how the coming weeks and months will develop and while it is still too early to speak about life “post-COVID”, it is certainly the right time to reflect:

  • on the painful lessons we are learning,
  • on the areas we should improve and where our actions should be strengthened to better protect the EU from future cross-border health threats, and
  • what the EU’s role in health policy should be more broadly, in respect of Member States responsibility for their health policy enshrined in the Treaty.

Next week, on 15th July, we will present an Action Plan setting out a number of immediate short-term actions to help EU Member States prepare for and manage possible new outbreaks of COVID-19.

I want to be clear: a full-blown second wave is not inevitable. It is up to us to control it and to prepare for it -- if and when it comes.

Our actions should focus on reducing the burden on health systems, particularly if new outbreaks coincide with the influenza season in the autumn and winter.

COVID-19 has showed us very clearly that a united approach is critical, but also that we must strengthen the EU’s current preparedness and response mechanisms to better protect the health of our citizens.

Many – including members of this house and our citizens – are calling for a stronger role for the EU on health.

I cannot but agree – and say that I stand ready to work on this together.

As a first step, we should increase our capacity to support Member States. This requires stronger and more operational EU agencies.

In the coming months, we will propose to strengthen the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to improve its coordination capacities and its mandate to respond to health crises.

We will also propose to strengthen the European Medicines’ Agency to ensure it can effectively coordinate our actions in preventing medicines shortages.

We also want to look at how to strengthen our EU framework on cross border health threats.

Beyond the immediate priorities, now is also the right moment to  reflect on the EU’s competences in the area of public health – and its limitations.

The Conference on the Future of Europe provides an excellent forum to decide on if we want more Europe in the area of public health; whether we need to look again at who does what between the national and European level; and particularly so as regards threats that touch all of us – regardless of borders.

Even within the deepest crisis, come opportunities from the lessons we learn. Strengthening the strategic autonomy of our health and pharmaceutical systems is a case in point from the current crisis.

With our proposed EU4Health Programme and the unprecedented €9,4 billion envelope we proposed, we send a clear message that public health is a priority area for our recovery; that targeted investment in crisis preparedness and stronger health systems for the future is key.

What is now required is close cooperation and a swift agreement between the Parliament and the Council in the coming weeks and months to ensure it can deliver.

I fully count on your support to take the ambition forward.

In parallel, our new Pharmaceutical Strategy coming later this year is an opportunity for us to ensure and reinforce the strategic autonomy of our pharmaceutical sector and ensure access and affordability of essential medicines for our citizens.

Honourable members,

The next six months are critical.

Now is not the time to let our guard down - the situation remains fragile and the stable numbers we see can change very quickly.

A safe and effective vaccine likely remains the only permanent solution to the pandemic – but that is still some time away. Together with the Member States, we are fully engaged in negotiations with vaccine manufacturers to ensure access to vaccines when they become available.

We will ensure the EU continues to play a leading role in international efforts to develop, manufacture and deploy a universally accessible vaccine – for the EU and for the world.

We will not say US FIRST – we will continue to support countries inside and outside the EU to protect all people from new outbreaks – especially the most vulnerable.

Solidarity will remain key because it saves lives.

Working together, pooling resources, tackling jointly the issues that affect all of us.

This is the first and most important lesson of this crisis: responding to the expectations of our citizens.

Ensuring a stronger role for the EU when citizens’ health is at stake from threats, which do not stop at national borders.

We have a collective duty to ensure that.