EU Parliament adopts report on lessons to be learned from COVID-19

EU lawmakers approved a report on lessons to take from COVID-19 on Wednesday (12 July). The text analysed the impact of the pandemic, evaluated EU and national health systems’ responses and set a roadmap for future health emergencies. 

The European Parliament adopted the report “COVID-19 pandemic: Lessons learned and recommendations for the future” by 385 votes in favour, 193 against and 63 abstentions.

While the final report of the COVI special committee carries no legislative weight, it looks to draw lessons from the pandemic and establish a series of recommendations to the member states and the European Commission in order to strengthen European response to health threats.

The report recognises that the EU, as well as the rest of the world, was not prepared when the pandemic hit in 2020 and sets as its main objective to establish a strategy for the future.

For that, the text stresses that a high level of human health protection must be ensured in the design, definition and implementation of all EU policies, legislation, funding and activities.

It also states that future public health threats will mostly be transnational by nature and stresses the role of unity, shared responsibility and the use of available single-market instruments to better coordinate both pandemic preparedness and management.

The text was debated in the plenary on Tuesday, where Commissioner Margaritis Schinas told EU lawmakers that “the clearest lesson from the pandemic is also the simplest, we Europeans are more effective when we act together”.

He added that the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that the EU institutions have institutional maturity and created a remarkable example during an unprecedented crisis.

Ahead of the vote, Christian democrat Spanish MEP Dolors Montserrat, the rapporteur of the file told EURACTIV in an interview that the backing of the Parliament on this report would demonstrate a broad understanding of the need for innovation, better access to medicines and addressing shortages.

Falling short on IP rights

Despite the initial agreement on most aspects of the file, there are certain topics that have created controversy during the committee’s work. Intellectual property (IP) rights were one of the points of friction between MEPs from different political groups.

The report addresses the IP issue by underlining as legitimate policy measures, that governments can use to protect and promote public health, the flexibilities in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

The final text stresses that intellectual property protection can be an incentive for innovation and research across the globe and notes that this protection can be the basis for voluntary licensing agreements and know-how transfer and can therefore be an enabler of vaccine availability, despite amendments tabled by the S&D and the Greens to remove this paragraph.

It also underlines that an indefinite TRIPS agreement waiver could pose challenges to research finance, in particular for researchers, investors, developers and clinical trials.

MEP Tilly Metz, shadow-rapporteur for the Greens on this file, told EURACTIV after the vote that the European Parliament has failed to address the most important lesson from the pandemic. “Thousands of deaths could have been avoided should we have shared IP rights and know-how effectively and earlier,” she said.

“It is a shame that a majority of the Parliament decided to protect the pharmaceutical companies instead of portraying the facts and building better access mechanisms for the future,” she added.

The adopted text stresses that the revision of EU pharmaceutical legislation should ensure that Europe remains an attractive destination for investments in research and innovation, while at the same time, creating a business environment where the pharma industry works in the interest of patients and citizens.

Lessons for the future

A refrain throughout the report is the need to learn for the future while also transferring this knowledge to other health issues.

The report mentions that practices learned during the COVID pandemic could also be explored in areas like rare diseases and cancer. It reiterates the need to stockpile equipment for tests and swabs and believes in the importance to invest in innovative techniques for detecting SARS-CoV2 and other viruses.

Together with stockpiling, joint procurement was one of the big things Europe introduced as common practice during the pandemic. While being useful in this circumstance, the report stresses that it must not risk having a negative impact on supply flows by increasing the risk of shortages in the EU.

“It is now up to the European Commission to take our recommendations and table proposals to shape a more crisis-resilient and future-proof EU,” said Kathleen Van Brempt, Chair of the COVI committee in a press release after the vote.

In March 2022, the Parliament established a “Special Committee on the COVID-19 pandemic: lessons learned and recommendations for the future” (COVI),  to reflect on the lessons learnt by the EU after the pandemic and prepare for future challenges to protect EU citizens’ health. With this report, the committee is finalising its work, after completing 17 hearings, and having exchanges with more than 70 experts and 8 commissioners during this last year.

[Edited by Giedrė Peseckytė/Nathalie Weatherald]


About the author

Related Post

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *