Campaign > ongoing
Campaign > ongoing
Petition to the Ministers of Health and the Heads of States and Governments of the Countries of the European Union
in collaboration with:
By now we’re the middle of the second wave of COVID-19. Eight months have passed by since the pandemic caught the world by surprise, yet political leaders seem not to have learned much. In Europe, we still see too little coordination among states – from the collection of epidemiological data to testing – and too much unilateral action – with different restrictive measures applicable to similar situations.
That’s where our political leaders should do more. In addition, it is beyond doubt that the best solution to the current situation is a vaccine. While intense work is being done for months to find one, that would be only just the beginning. For any vaccine to have the effect we all hope for, it must be not only safe and effective but also affordable and available for everybody.
We must therefore remain vigilant towards the activity of the pharmaceutical companies working to develop both a vaccine and a treatment for COVID-19, to ensure that in the end what prevails are not business interests but the health and wellbeing of the general public. We must also ensure that the flexibility of regulation which was necessary for these extreme circumstances, to allow for more collaboration and better development of the necessary treatment and vaccine does not become the new normal.
Contrary to what is often stated, Europe’s power to get us out of the pandemic is an extremely significant one. Yet it currently rests with big pharmaceutical companies. We must ensure it is used wisely, for the benefit of all, and not for making a profit.
On June 15, following recommendations issued by the European Commission, nearly all EU Member States reopened their borders. By the end of June, with the lifting of all restrictive measures in Spain and Portugal, people’s right to free movement will be fully restored. Lastly, as of July 1, The Commission suggested a progressive, partial reopening of EU Member States to non-EU countries. These landmarks are significant in the European response to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, we must remember that the risk of a second wave is imminent, and the EU needs to stand at the ready. To emphasize this sentiment, the leaders of Denmark, Germany, Belgium, France, Poland sent a letter to the President of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen, suggesting a series of measures to ensure effective management of a new pandemic scenario. More specifically, the head of the governments insisted on strengthening existing coordination mechanisms, such as the need to standardize health and health-related manufacturing protocols, share best practices for industrial conversion, share data on the state of the epidemiological situation, and coordinate research efforts.
We support the proposals made in this letter, though we do not think they are sufficient. We believe it is crucial to mention the creation of a series of binding legal instruments to ensure coordination between Member States and prevent unilateral actions — such as the closure of borders, the lack of response to the European civil protection mechanism.
We do not want to see again the implementation of unilateral measures by each member state – an approach that endangers the health and the rights of all European citizens. Therefore, we ask for a European Health Union. If the Union had real health competences, it could take the necessary decisions through legally binding instruments, and act at the most appropriate level of governance which, in the case of a pandemic, is certainly the supranational level.
Freedom of movement is one of the four fundamental freedoms of the Union. It must be protected and safeguarded for a panoply of economic reasons, as well as being regarded as a common and fundamental good. Of course, this development must be made legitimate by a parallel adjustment of the governance structure of the European Union, which should allow citizens to be fully involved in the decisions concerning them.
We are asking ministers, heads of state, and governments of EU Member States to coordinate throughout the implementation of Phase 2 of the COVID-19 health emergency. We believe they should be sharing strategies to reopen national borders and collaborate in the testing of the coronavirus, its containment, the search for an effective vaccine, and funds to deal with post-pandemic recovery.
Thank you to the thousands of citizens who supported our campaign! We have received noteworthy responses to our demands for pan-EU coordination of health measures. During a videoconference meeting with ministers from the various EU Member States, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides proposed a pan-EU plan on vaccination against Covid-19. This program will identify and fund the most promising vaccines in order to create adequate infrastructure for clinical trials, as well as maximize access to the drug once it becomes widely available. The Commission created a stockpile for all EU Member States, initiated with a coordinated purchase of masks, gloves, fans, and laboratory supplies. Several countries, including Austria, Germany, and Luxembourg, have demonstrated their support and solidarity for the other EU Member States by caring for COVID-19 patients from more affected nations, such as France and Italy.
As we are managing Phase 2 of the pandemic, a remaining concern is the lack of a common effort in reopening borders between countries. As an example, Italy reopened its borders to all European travellers on June 3, but Italian citizens are still unable to move freely across the union to countries such as Austria. This is due to the fact that Austria has opened its borders to all European citizens except the ones with Italy. The unilateral measures implemented within different EU countries discriminate against European citizens on the basis of their origin. This chaotic overlapping of measures has not been severely contested, as countries rely on the WHO and its repeated statements that these kinds of policies are justified as they are enacted for public health reasons.
Decisions made by Member States without EU-wide coordination seriously jeopardizes one of the four fundamental pillars of the European Union – the free movement of people.
The Commission could sanction these potential plans for individual reopenings by Member States, as they represent genuine discrimination against European citizens on the basis of their nationality. For this reason, we ask for a joint effort on reopening all borders across the EU so that no EU citizen experiences discrimination based on their citizenship.
We demand that the National Ministers of Health and their governments across the European Union immediately coordinate their response to the COVID-19 health emergency. In particular, we ask them to adopt common strategies to contain the spreading of the virus; develop common protocols concerning testing, containment, social distancing; support medical research on effective vaccines and medications, and be ready to counter the massive socio-economic consequences of the emergency.
COVID19 has no borders. If Italy, Spain and France are among the most affected countries, the virus is spreading fast. No country can get out of this emergency alone.
However, there is no common strategy to contain such a health emergency. Italian, Spanish, French are confined to their homes and limited in the exercise of their personal freedoms in an attempt at saving lives. As time passes, many more will soon find themselves affected in this unprecedented compression of personal freedom in liberal democracies.
This the closest experience to war ever lived by the vast majority of us, European citizens. While there are no bombs, thousands of citizens in intensive care are victims and health professionals are under the enormous pressure of long shifts and the fear of falling ill.
Many wonder: what is the European Union actually doing?
To blame the European Union is easy, but it doesn’t get us anywhere. The European Institutions cannot close schools, cancel football games or lockdown our cities. They are not entitled to. However, given the emergency situation we all find ourselves in, we can no longer limit ourselves to saying that the EU has no competence in health matters and, therefore, cannot act.
If the European Union cannot act alone, nothing forbids the Health Ministers of all EU Member States to pool their sovereign emergency powers. They could start coordinating their health response, by taking a common line on testing, containment, quarantine, social distancing and research on potential vaccines and medications.
It would be a key step forward, not only for the efficacy of the measures taken but also for the acceptability of measures that often foresee the extreme limitation of our personal freedoms to reduce the risk of contagion and protect the health of every and each European citizen.
In the absence of a European coordination, we see unilateral actions, like the decision of Germany to close its borders. Although border restrictions do not entail any major health gain – but rather slow the free movement of workers and good needed in an emergency –, they respond to the inability of the Union and its member states to devise a coordinated action preventing those cross-border movements from happening. A EU-wide coordinated health response to COVID19 would render border controls unnecessary.
Join us in asking the EU 27 Health Ministers to exercise together their emergency sovereign powers, so as to closely coordinate their sanitary response, adopt common positions on testing, containments, quarantine, social distancing and medical research. Once the emergency will be over, we ask our national political leaders to pursue a transnational approach as the only one capable of dealing with viruses that do not know borders. It is high time to permanently entrust the European Union with real competences in the field of public health, especially in emergency situations.
Together we can be heard. Sign the petition!