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'Health is not a cost, it's an investment', MEP says as Euronews speaks to MEP Awards 2020 winners

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The MEP Awards 2020 opening sequence from the ceremony on Tuesday 1st Dec
The MEP Awards 2020 opening sequence from the ceremony on Tuesday 1st Dec   -   Copyright  Dods Group/The Parliament Magazine
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Members of the European Parliament gathered virtually on Tuesday evening to honour the most remarkable work of their hemicycle peers. The MEP Awards, a yearly ceremony organised by The Parliament Magazine, recognised the legislative achievements and political influence of MEPs from across the political spectrum.

Bulgarian MEP, Eva Maydell, who hosted the event, told Euronews that it was great to understand better the work of her parliamentary colleagues.

"It was a good experience because after all, you recognised colleagues that have done some impressive work over the past year and it gave you great satisfaction. It gave a better knowledge of some of your colleagues that you don't sit in the same committees with and you don't work with them. So, it was definitely a very enriching and interesting experience for me," Maydell explained.

"Health is not a cost, it's an Investment"

Among the winners of the night was Sara Cerdas, a Portuguese MEP from the S&D Group, who was awarded the Health award.

“It's a great honour for me to be just nominated for these awards with such important colleagues. It's quite astounding, a bit remarkable, that I received this recognition in the first year of my political activity,” Cerdas told Euronews.

“This is an indicator that me and my team are working on the right track,” she added.

Due to her professional and academic background, Cerdas was involved in health policy even before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Parliament Magazine tweets about the 2020 MEP Awards

“Right now, my family and friends understand what it's like to be a public health medical doctor.”

The MEP has dedicated her energy towards bringing health to the forefront of the EU agenda.

“This is not just an award for me and my team, this is also for all those who have been working since the beginning of this legislature to have health in the agenda and work for a healthier European Union.”

Cerdas regrets the cuts that EU leaders made to the original proposal of the landmark EU4Health programme during the summer negotiations, but she's confident she and her colleagues will make the most of the €5bn package that was eventually earmarked.

“Since the beginning, I've been saying that health is not a cost, it's an investment. For each euro that is invested we have a €14 return.”

Next year, Cerdas will pay special attention to vaccine accessibility and will campaign for stronger action against coronavirus misinformation. Besides COVID-19, the MEP will continue to work towards health promotion and disease prevention as well as health literacy to help Europeans engage in healthier lifestyle options.

"Covid has shown we can make big changes in a short period of time"

“I was very surprised and happy” to win, confesses Henna Maria Virkkunen, a Finnish MEP from the EPP Group, who took home the Energy award. Virkkunen is satisfied with the “hard work” that she and her colleagues have done throughout this year to make energy a key component of the EU Green Deal.

She admits to being particularly proud of her actions to encourage industry to invest and innovate.

“We have to focus on what will happen before 2050,” she tells Euronews, in a reference to the long-term goal of making Europe the first carbon-neutral continent.

Like her colleague Sara Cerdas, Virkkunen is disappointed with the budget cuts agreed by EU leaders back in July and is concerned that Member States will direct too many funds into national programmes, to the detriment of EU initiatives.

Sara Cerdas MEP celebrates her Health Award victory

Asked about the big differences between Members States when it comes to the production of renewable energy, Virkkunen concedes the gaps exist but also defends that each country should be able to choose their own energy mix.

“It doesn't have to be all renewable, but it has to be clean,” she says. “We couldn't survive without nuclear power.”

Reflecting on the pandemic, Virkkunen believes that the health crisis has compelled policy-makers to talk more about “energy resilience and dependence” and has demonstrated how human beings can “make big changes in our behaviours in a very short period of time”, which can help citizens realise that an energy transition is feasible.

“Let's make sure we don't leave the rest of the world to China”

Another winner of the night was Kathleen Van Brempt, a Belgian MEP from the S&D group, who received the International Trade award. “The award makes me and my team stronger so it's helpful”, Van Brempt told Euronews in an interview. “It was a very difficult year for all of us, not just people in politics. All of a sudden you have to start negotiating in a remote way. It's not good for democracy, this COVID-19 crisis.”

Van Brempt, however, is looking at 2021 with “a lot of optimism” and will focus her parliamentary work in making trade more sustainable and rules-based. She's grateful the United States have voted for a “normal president” (Joe Biden) and believes it's important that Europe “reconnects very firmly” with its Atlantic partner to deal together with the challenges posed by China. As a passionate believer in trade, Van Brent advocates for more geopolitical partnerships. “Let's make sure we don't leave the rest of the world to China.”

Asked about the Mercosur agreement, which the EU reached in 2019 with several Latin American countries, but has since hit an impasse and garnered significantly negative press, Van Brent thinks 2021 could “become the year of Mercosur”.

But that will also depend on the negotiation skills of the European Commission and the ability of the Mercosur countries, in particular of Brazil, to “turn around their climate policy and come in line with the Paris Agreement.”

Regardless of whether the deal is finally approved or not, Van Brempt will keep working towards her main goal: the reform of the trade system. “Let's prove to the public that we can build a trade system that is sustainable,” she says. “There's a lot at stake and a lot of work for us to do.”