On June 15, the European Commission presented a Communication on the early lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 18 months. The text includes an overview of the main actions the EU took, and include ten lessons on what has to be improved and what can be done better in the future to improve action at European and national level. “The ten lessons are not exhaustive” states the Commission in its storytelling. At least, this is true : transparency and democratic control by European Parliament - which already suffered during the Covid pandemic - are the big absents of this communication, recalls Greens MEPs.
The story so far... but from the Commission one-eyed view
Reading this communication looks like a political fiction. We didn’t face the same European Covid-19 pandemics. In the world of the Commission, everything went (almost) fine : not a single word on the abusive total opacity of the EU decision-making process concerning its Vaccine strategy (excluding the only democratically elected EU institution from the beggining), on the delayed delivery of vaccines, on the opportunistic Remdesivir joint procurement fiasco, no mention of the early off-patented treatment options considered elsewhere, including in some EU member-states. The mentioned factors of the unpreparedness of Member State Health Systems – such as the shortage of sufficient hospital beds, medical equipment, supplies, and medicines especially -, are far from honest, stressing the value of coordination between Member States but forgetting the cost-saving public health politics of the past years. The storyline of the Commission is overconfident but falls short. Its blindspots are so obvious that sometimes the wording of the Commission sounds as discrete spin-doctoring desinformation.
Overall, the assessment of the European Commission lacks an honest evaluation over the unpreparedness of the block for a pandemic and the responses that the EU and all Member States have provided during the pandemic. The communication does not contain an adequate analysis of the shortcomings and gaps that characterized some decisions, nor it addresses some key issues that hindered crucial principles such as solidarity in the responses to the crisis. A frank self-reflection over the actions that the EU institutions took is crucial to avoid that the same problems and perverse dynamics will arise in the future.
The democratic control of the European Parliament lost in coordination?
During the pandemic, most of the EU actions were taken in extra-ordinary circumstances that often required swift responses and little time for thorough assessments. Urgency actions were taken without a proper involvement of the European Parliament, which overall lacked a constant and informed dialogue with the Commission and the European Council. The EP was pushed to vote an impressive number of legislative texts but when it comes to its budgetary control rights, they were simply ignored. However, such pandemic seems far from being over and further actions will be necessary in the upcoming months.
Despite continuous calls from the European Parliament as co-legislator to have a full access to the contracts, agreements and governance mechanisms of the EU Strategy for COVID-19 vaccines, the Commission still refuses to do so. Deriving from the fact that the European Parliament, especially its BUDG, ENVI and CONT committees, has a duty to perform an annual control of the EU budget and to have a constant overview of the planning, implementation and control of the EU spending, we maintain our call the Commission to disclose in details all the requested information to the EP members. In addition, the Commission should include the Vaccine Contact Group between the European Commission and Parliament for COVID-19, established by the President of the European Commission to remedy the lack of the EP’s involvement in the EU’s pandemic management, in the decision-making process for the approval of future EU wide contracts in order to ensure a greater transparency in any future negotiation process.
Giving the huge amount of public money that is invested in the EU wide public procurement contracts or advance purchase agreements in the health sector, we consider that such agreements must be public. Moreover, they should contain relevant information to inform the EU citizens of how the public resources are used and to guarantee the parliamentary scrutiny over their implementation.
Harder, Faster, Better?
“We must now learn from this example, turning emergency action into structural change for a coordinated response to future health crises of this nature” proposes the Commission. Hmm, sorry to disagree, we need first to correct the wrongdoings and fill the gaps before any new proposals. It is not a good sign for the transparency, solidarity and for a healthy democracy.
A large part of the 10 early lessons described by the Commission were already in the pipeline. And others ones look as a plea for more public-private partnership, more public money to the private firms without a proper return on investments of public funds, and more decisions without European Parliament’s involvement and scrutiny.
If the intentions is to turn ad hoc solutions that were used to deal with the crisis into permanent structures, clear conditions on the use of public funds must be included in the agreements. We regret the lack of scrutiny over the money invested under HERA incubator, the next-gen contracts and the COVID-19 therapeutics strategy. Only with a strong governance and full transparency of their structures, the public-private partnerships will deliver outcomes that will benefit both the public and the private sectors. This will be particularly the case for the setting up of the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) and for the launch of the Health Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI).
In addition, if the European Union really want to show a “true” solidarity in a global effort scale, the Commission and the European Council must review their opposition to the TRIPS waiver proposal at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which serves to enable greater access to affordable COVID-19 health technologies, including vaccines, in particular for developing and middle income countries.
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