ISSN 2039 - 6937  Registrata presso il Tribunale di Catania
Anno XIII - n. 08 - Agosto 2021

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EU Covid-19 crisis management and a way out after pandemic, through solidarity and responsibility.

Di Anna Laura Rum
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EU Covid-19 crisis management and a way out after pandemic,

through solidarity and responsibility.

 

ANNA LAURA RUM

 

Summary: 1. The EU situation after pandemic. 2. Exit strategy: a way out of the COVID-19 crisis through solidarity. 3. What tools do Member States need? 4. References.

 

 

  1. The EU situation after pandemic

Covid-19’s consequences have been affecting countries that normally have well-functioning healthcare systems[1].

According to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the EU has a shared competence with Member States in public health matters for aspects defined by the Treaty: article 168 TFEU calls the EU to act on global health issues by fostering cooperation with third countries and competent international organizations. It also establishes that the responsibility of organising their health systems remains in the hands of Member States.

A dedicated agency – the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) – was set up in an attempt to strengthen Europe’s response capability and to provide technical support to Member States.

In spite of this fact, both the EU governance and Member States governance of pandemics appear too fragmented and insufficiently coordinated.

Most countries have been wildly unprepared and the existing coordination mechanisms has appeared too weak to effectively prevent collective action problems, as well as fragmented and sparse reactions, to proliferate[2].

In Europe, the ECDC is likewise insufficiently endowed to effectively coordinate Member States in providing a meaningful response.

 

 

  1. Exit strategy: a way out of the Covid-19 crisis through solidarity.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown that European countries remain poorly prepared for dealing and coping with health crises and for responding in a coordinated way to a severe influenza pandemic. Within the European Union, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has a striking diversity in its approach.

Actually, solidarity is a foundation of the European construction and this crisis requires the solidarity that has guided European construction since its very first steps.

 The very concept of “community” stands for open and trusting exchanges between its members, sharing resources, and mutual assistance within this community.

Then, moving from Communities to a Union has not taken anything away from the threefold dynamic underpinning the European project.

Solidarity is rooted in the “spiritual and moral heritage” to which the EU refers in the preamble of its Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Despite limited competences, European solidarity can be indirectly exercised in other ways.

For example, by temporarily suspending a number of measures related to the competition rules of the Single Market (state aid) and the fiscal framework (European Stability and Growth Pact), the Commission made it easier for Member States to invoke national solidarity mechanisms.

Perhaps if the EU wants to improve its preparedness and responsiveness in light of future pandemics, then several aspects will require enhanced attention.

First, early warning and prevention strategies need to be better integrated with responses.

Second, limiting EU competences on public health is highly inefficient during a pandemic response.

During the current outbreak, the ECDC has issued recommendations, including on the criteria for discharging COVID-19 patients, social distancing and contact tracing.

The European Commission also published recommendations for testing strategies.

However, these recommendations are not binding on EU Member States, and national authorities are currently deciding who to test, whether or not to trace contacts and how often and what types of social distancing measures to adopt.

While clearly the adoption of severe measures such as quarantines, school closures and suspension of economic activities often needs to be adapted at national or even regional and local levels, there is also a need for coordinating measures to contain or mitigate the spread of communicable diseases. Both the intended and unintended effects of such measures in any one Member State may have important consequences in others (especially at the border). For instance, early announcements of lockdowns in some cities or countries have prompted a large number of people to flee from severely affected areas, possibly aggravating an already difficult situation.

Closing some activities in one Member State while leaving them open in others also had similar effects.

Last, but not least, data sharing is key to understanding the evolution of an outbreak and adapting measures as needed. While the ECDC has competences to collect and share data, one important limitation that emerged during the COVID-19 outbreak is the lack of consistency across data: not all countries are sharing data on the number of cases by age and sex.

And key information such as the criteria adopted for testing, which have a direct effect on the number of confirmed cases and deaths reported, was not fully shared, which also fostered a lack of trust between Member States.

All of these factors have so far limited the ability of EU institutions to learn in real time from data at the EU level, thereby limiting the EU’s ability to respond to the pandemic[3].

The lack of European solidarity observed at the beginning of the pandemic suggests the EU and its Member States must take more substantial steps towards internal solidarity[4].

 

  1. What tools do Member States need?

There are many ways to pursue enhanced resilience, solidarity and responsiveness, but not all of them are compatible with sustainability and democratic values.

In the current emergency, the EU has a chance to show that risk management and governance is possible without sacrificing individual fundamental rights, in the name of solidarity and a sustainable development.

It is essential that, once COVID-19 gradually disappears, the lessons learned from these months of lockdown become the foundations of a new approach to risk governance at EU and global levels: remembering what went wrong in times of crisis is essential to avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future.

Once the current emergency is over, but perhaps even before then, there is a need to strengthen the resilience and sustainability of healthcare systems.

Health has been found to be a key concern for European citizens and an area for which the EU has been asked to expand its competences and powers.

A potential solution of those problems, can be offered by suggesting possible measures and government models, that should be adopted in quieter times, to contribute to better governance in the years to come, such as setting more centralisation in healthcare governance and avoiding to adopt a “disease-by-disease” strategy especially to address health emergencies, a multi-level cooperation to solve the lack of full coordination.

The shortage of medical devices and medicines, an already existing problem in the EU, became more apparent and critical in the current emergency: social distancing, travel bans and other similar measures are thought to be ineffective or even dangerous unless enacted in a concerted and coordinated way.

 

  1. References.
  • Kuhlmann, Bouckaert, Galli, Reiter, Van Hecke, “Opportunity management of the COVID-19 pandemic: testing the crisis from a global perspective”, International Review of Administrative Sciences, 2021;
  • Kuhlmann, Hellström, Ramberg, Reiter, “Tracing divergence in crisis governance: responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in France, Germany and Sweden compared”, International Review of Administrative Sciences, 2021;
  • Muravska, Dyomkin, “Nations Resort to a Redistribution to Rescue the Western Model for the Post-Pandemic World: An EU and Canadian Approach”,  Studia Europejskie-Studies in European Affairs, 2020;
  • Toderean, Celac, Scutaru, “Post-Pandemic World perspectives on foreign and security policy”, Curtea Veche Publishing, 2020;
  • Van Hecke, Fuhr, Wolfs, “The politics of crisis management by regional and international organizations in fighting against a global pandemic: the member states at a crossroads”, International Review of Administrative Sciences, 2021.

 

[1] See, ex multis, Matthias Beck, Damian Tobin, Gail Sheppard, “The 2020 Novel Corona Virus Outbreak: One Year On”, The Open Public Health Journal, 2021, 7-11); Brian An, Simon Porcher, Shui Yan Tang, Emily Eunji Kim, “How Much Agility? Worldwide Evidence from Early Mask Mandates and Other Policy Interventions on COVID-19 Infection and Death”, SSRN Electronic Journal, 2021; Jaroslav Dvorak, “Response of the Lithuanian municipalities to the First Wave of COVID-19”, Baltic Region, 2021, 70-88

[2] See DP Mancini, “Big Drugmakers under Pressure to Share Patents against Coronavirus”, Financial Times, 30 March 2020 <https://www.ft.com/content/b69afd98-a8af-40d9-b520-4231d9cac68f>; Flahault, A, “COVID-19 Cacophony: Is There Any Orchestra Conductor?”, 2020, 395, The Lancet 1037CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

[3] See Sabine Kuhlmann, Mikael Hellström, Ulf Ramberg, Renate Reiter, “Tracing divergence in crisis governance: responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in France, Germany and Sweden compared”, International Review of Administrative Sciences, 2021

[4] See Martin, R and Conseil, A, “Public Health Policy and Law for Pandemic Influenza: A Case for European Harmonization?”, Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, 2012, 37; Speakman, EM, Burris, S and Coker, R, “Pandemic Legislation in the European Union: Fit for Purpose? The Need for a Systematic Comparison of National Laws”, Health Policy, 121; Paulo Vila Maior, Isabel Camisão, “Institutional Rebalancing in the Wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic”, New Challenges for the Eurozone Governance, 2021, 285-302; Sabine Kuhlmann, Jochen Franzke, “Multi-level responses to COVID-19: crisis coordination in Germany from an intergovernmental perspective”, Local Government Studies, 2021, 1-23