As EU international locations are dealing with new waves of COVID-19 and are broadly re-imposing lockdowns, the query of strengthening EU members’ cooperation on well being, particularly on issues associated to cross-border well being disaster, has grow to be extra urgent. The difficulty of an EU Well being Union, which for lengthy was barely conceivable, is now on the forefront of political debates. On September 16 2020, President Von der Leyen raised this prospect in her State of the Union address. Subsequently, on November 11, the Fee launched a proposal to enact new regulations geared toward constructing a stronger disaster preparedness and response framework for Europe. Such EU degree initiatives got here in response to a scarcity of coordination between Member States throughout first wave of COVID-19, which brought on confusion, deaths, in addition to social and financial damages to the inhabitants. Member States additionally began to undertake totally different approaches to confinement and inhabitants assessments, and differing nationwide measures limiting the free circulation of masks and medical and protecting tools, whereas unilaterally deciding to shut borders, creating threats to the functioning of the one market and precept of free motion of individuals. 

EU shortcomings in managing the disaster appeared at virtually each stage of the method of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic: surveillance, preparedness, and response (Renda & Castro, 2020). On the epidemiological and threat surveillance stage, the European Centre for Illness Management (ECDC) didn’t anticipate the gravity and unfold of the virus, as proven by the risk assessments performed by the company mid-february 2020, a interval the place the virus was already circulating throughout EU International locations (Worobey et al., 2020).  Its analysis of Member States response capacities was additionally largely insufficient because it did not assess properly their capacities both in terms of testing capacities and medical countermeasures. The restricted scope of EU prerogatives, calling on Member States to share their preparedness plans with out the means to implement such obligation might clarify such hesitations. Furthermore, the response to the COVID-19 disaster was fairly disorganised at first. The Health Security Committee, an intergovernmental physique, which brings collectively Member States to outline a standard technique to answer the disaster, failed to agree on common measures, mostly because of a legal framework that allows Member States to adopt unilateral measures in the case of an emergency.  

How can we consider and perceive the bounds of EU motion in the course of the disaster? A comparatively easy key to analysing EU disaster administration regimes is to take a look at two essential dimensions: (1) who has the ability to make selections: the EU or Member States?  And (2) what sort of authorized devices can be found on the EU degree to organise Member States’ cooperation when a cross-border disaster strikes? Are these devices obligatory or do they depend on voluntary cooperation?  The present EU Well being safety framework derives from the 2013 EU Decision (1082/2013/EU) on severe cross-border well being threats.This scheme depends totally on intergovernmental preparations preserving Member States decision-making, while leaving the EU with little energy to incentivise cooperation between Member States.

In an article revealed this fall in the European Journal of Risk and Regulation, we argue {that a} reform of the well being safety framework, as a part of a Well being Union, ought to search to enhance disaster preparedness and response. We evaluate well being to different domains of EU disaster administration to supply insights into what an efficient and applicable EU mechanism to answer cross-border well being threats might seem like. Drawing classes from these domains shed mild onto the totally different attainable ranges of integration, cooperation, distribution of decision-making powers, and the political and authorized devices which can be utilized by decisionmakers. Utilizing the circumstances of electrical energy, banking and meals security, we determine three fashions and attainable paths for enhancing the EU’s response to well being emergencies. 

The primary one could possibly be characterised by inter-governmental decision-making. It’s much like the well being disaster administration regime on this context, besides that it entails extra substantial obligations and incentives to coordinate, by setting minimal requirements to all member states and guaranteeing a degree taking part in discipline. The governance of electrical energy crises illustrates this mannequin properly. It depends on two fundamental instruments: first the adoption of widespread emergency requirements, and second, the harmonisation of preparedness by way of a Regulation (2019/941/EU), which mandates the EU to watch and assess Member States’ preparedness plans primarily based on widespread templates. Electrical energy disaster administration additionally entails a pre-agreed strategy to help, in addition to regional coordination. By way of surveillance, the Regulation commanded the adoption of widespread definitions, threat evaluation methodology and disaster eventualities. It thus regulates how Member states plan for crises, relatively than their substantive selections, which stay a nationwide prerogative.

Meals security illustrates a second mannequin of cooperation, characterised by the next diploma of integration whereas nonetheless preserving Member states room of manoeuvre when a meals disaster arises. The present regime has been reorganised by a 2019 Implementing Decision (2019/300/EU). In comparison with well being, it presents a number of benefits: relatively than counting on a self-assessment by member states, it permits an exterior audit of nationwide plans, though it doesn’t go so far as harmonising these plans. The Fee thus has extra powers to make selections in response to disaster. The definition of a transparent coordination scheme at EU degree, with particular duties, and pre-defined roles, can be extra prone to forestall the type of coordination issues that COVID-19 revealed within the well being area.  

The third mannequin is the most built-in one and factors to a full supranationalisation of disaster administration – as within the case of banking. This selection is much less widespread as Member States are sometimes reluctant to surrender their disaster administration powers. After the monetary crises of 2008 and 2012, Member States from the Eurozone agreed to interact in a banking union that would offer sturdy regulation powers to the EU, together with monetary regulation powers and powers to rescue banks. Since 2013, Eurozone banks are supervised by a Single Supervisory Board (Regulation 1024/2013), situated on the European Central Financial institution, which runs stress assessments to evaluate banks’ resistance to monetary crises. In 2014, a  Regulation (806/2014/EU) strengthened additional the EU banking competences by creating a brand new company, the Single Decision Board, tasked with overseeing banks decision plans, and making selections in case of a banking failure. In concept, this strategy solves coordination issues. Nonetheless, supra-nationalisation is troublesome to implement given the heterogeneity of situations, Member States’ means to exploit loopholes, and the missing legitimacy of a centrally-defined resolution.  

In brief, what classes will be drawn from this speedy overview of obtainable ‘instruments’ to coordinate EU actions in instances of disaster? First, a full a supra-nationalisation of well being disaster administration seems neither legally attainable nor fascinating since responses to well being outbreaks requires each native motion and a excessive degree of legitimacy to be accepted by the inhabitants and to be efficient. Nonetheless, each the meals security and electrical energy fashions present some helpful results in devise preparations that will each protect Member states jurisdiction and enhance the EU’s means to answer well being crises. In follow this implies: harmonising pandemics preparedness by way of widespread templates primarily based on a stronger legislative device akin to a regulation; empowering the ECDC and Well being Safety Committee to audit nationwide plans and emit suggestions; clarifying the position of the Well being Safety Committee in instances of disaster; and designating disaster coordinators and committees earlier than crises really occur.

Whereas the early levels of the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted a number of limits of the EU well being disaster administration, progress has been made since then, as coordination considerably improved along with the popularity of an important must undertake coordinated measures and pool assets to make sure swift and steady provide of essential items. The EU is now talking a extra unified voice and progressing towards extra built-in devices. Between the European Recovery plan agreed by nationwide governments in July 2020, and up to date proposals for reforming the EU health security framework, there appears to be a political urge for food to strengthen the EU disaster administration position.

Discussions a few European Well being Union, as laid down by Ursula Von Der Leyen in her State of the Union address in September 2020, adopted by a proposal for a brand new regulation repealing the 2013 choice on severe cross border well being threats reveals that an distinctive window of alternative is opening for a extra built-in well being union. The Commission’s proposal emphasizes the necessity to enhance preparedness and response to future outbreaks, that are anticipated to grow to be extra frequent. It entails the event of an EU well being disaster and pandemic preparedness plan, in addition to strengthened nationwide plans, extra clear reporting of capacities; strengthened, built-in surveillance programs; enhanced threat evaluation for well being threats; elevated energy to implement a coordinated response at EU degree by way of the Well being Safety Committee and the usage of a regulation; and an improved mechanism for recognition of and response to public well being emergencies.

The COVID-19 disaster provided a possibility to structurally reform the devices of the well being safety framework. Based mostly on our evaluation of different disaster administration framework, we will hope that the present proposals is not going to solely create new layers of organisations coping with cross-border well being threats however sort out the extra delicate query of offering elevated monitoring and steering competences to the EU degree, which certainly might add necessary worth to nationwide motion.


RENDA, A., & CASTRO, R. (2020). In the direction of Stronger EU Governance of Well being Threats after the COVID-19 Pandemic. European Journal of Danger Regulation, 11(2), 273-282. doi:10.1017/err.2020.34

Worobey, M., Pekar, J., Larsen, B. B., Nelson, M. I., Hill, V., Pleasure, J. B., … & Lemey, P. (2020). The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in Europe and North America. Science370(6516), 564-570.

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