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EU 'not prepared for next pandemic', say MEPs

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MEPs speak to Euronews' Political Editor, Darren McCaffrey, during a debate on the EU & Health in the European Parliament
MEPs speak to Euronews' Political Editor, Darren McCaffrey, during a debate on the EU & Health in the European Parliament   -   Copyright  Euronews
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The EU is not equipped to deal with any future pandemics, according to some Members of the European Parliament.

Speaking in Brussels, MEPs said that COVID-19 has shown the need for an "ambitious EU health programme" to ensure that the continent's health systems can "face future threats", after funding for healthcare was cut by Member States in July to €1.7bn.

They want to increase the amount to €9.4bn, which was originally proposed.

Cristian-Silviu Buşoi, the MEP in charge of the bloc's EU4Health Programme, said that they must concentrate on making the continent's healthcare systems better prepared for future crises and that this can only be done with the extra funds.

"The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the need for well-defined and adequately-financed health instruments as well as for boosting innovation and investing more in health in general. It will be crucial to increase funding for the EU4Health Programme to €9.4 billion, as proposed by the Commission in May, in order to have the capacity to deal with future pandemics and health threats, and to make our health systems more resilient," Buşoi explained.

One of the EU's main weaknesses when it comes to public health is that the responsibility of providing healthcare lies solely with Member States. The bloc has no jurisdiction in this regard.

This is another reason why MEPs are asking for more money for the EU4Health Programme, which they want to focus on things like disease prevention and improving vaccination rates.

Sara Cerdas MEP, who is responsible for the initiative from the S&D Group's side, spoke exclusively to Euronews during a debate on the EU & healthcare:

"It [EU4Health Programme] is a program that is very much tuned into the public health programs that can be done at EU level by all Member States and also by regions and cities, which is to prevent disease, promote health and prolong life for the organisers of society. That is the public health definition and this program delivers on that...It is an impressive program that will have many health benefits, not only in the future and long-term but also in the short and medium-term," Cerdas said.

Back in September, Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, announced that she would be making healthcare across the EU a priority, after she pledged to strengthen already existing institutions and also to build an Agency for Biomedical Advanced Research and Development.

But when any of this will actually materialise is still unknown, as Michele Calabro, a Policy Advisor at the European Patients Forum explained:

"It's going to be very important to see what's next and how we can really move the discussion forward from, let's say, a bit of wishful thinking on having more health at an EU level to actually doing it. And the way that we have to do it is, of course, yet to be defined. The Conference on the Future of Europe is going to be fundamental on this," Calabro said.

Parliament is expected to vote on EU Health funds in November, but with Member States already having reduced the amount significantly, MEPs will be hoping that Europe's second wave will bring the issue back into the spotlight.