Former French MEP: EU countries cooperated ‘as little as possible’ over COVID

Philippe Juvin, member of Les Republicains party arrives at La Maison de la Chimie after the first round of the Presidential election in Paris, France, 10 April 2022 [ADNAN FARZAT/EPA]

During the pandemic, member states were “very selfish” and cooperated “as little as possible” with the Commission, Philippe Juvin, one of the leaders of the French Republicans party and former MEP, told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

The Treaty of Rome – one of the most fundamental texts of the EU’s political institutions – addresses the fight against major plagues and diseases as a shared competence, even though healthcare, in general, remains under the jurisdiction of individual member states.

If the pandemic has revealed the limits of the European institutions in the field of health, former MEP Philippe Juvin (PPE), who also heads up the emergency unit at the European Hospital Georges Pompidou in Paris, highlighted the responsibility of the 27.

“At the beginning of the crisis, the Commission asked member states if they had any particular needs, such as shortages of masks. All but four responded, ‘No, no, we’re fine. We have everything we need'”, Juvin said.

Health authorities initially considered that it was not necessary to use masks against the virus. On January 26, 2020, Agnès Buzyn, former French Minister of Health, said: “For the general population, there is no indication to wear the mask today. The blue mask does not protect against anything.”

As the pandemic spread and evidence emerged that masks weren’t, in fact, useless, European countries faced a shortage.

On March 15, the Commission sounded the alarm in its official bulletin: “Demand for medical protection materials has been exacerbated in recent days and is expected to continue to increase significantly in the coming period, with shortages emerging in several member states.”

As 50% of masks on the market were produced in China, Europe quickly faced depletion of its stocks.

“Although increased manufacturing has been encouraged, the current level of EU production and existing stocks will not be sufficient to meet demand within the Union,” the Commission warned in a separate bulletin in April.

“How do you expect the EU to act when the 27 give it false information?”, Juvin asked, adding that member states had been “very selfish”.

“Europeanism of façade”

In October, faced with the influx of hospitalised patients, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a grant of €220 million to organise the transfer of patients.

“Not enough patients have been transferred”, Juvin said, adding that “people have died because they couldn’t go elsewhere for treatment” since “we couldn’t find a place for them in intensive care”.

The politician described what he calls a “Europeanism of façade”, where the “political communication” is to say “Europe is great”.

In March 2020, Juvin advised French President Emmanuel Macron to organise a survey of all intensive care health workers and available intensive care beds in Europe. “He did not do so,” the former MEP said.

“In practice, the member states do not provide the Commission with information. I think this is due to the mediocrity of the political class, nonchalance and carelessness”, he said, before adding that the political system holds everyone together “by alliance”, and the desire “not to be rude”.

As a consequence, “we don’t make anyone angry” and a system of governance that “constantly seeks consensus ends up not knowing how to manage crises”.

“A consensual system that has advantages, but not during a crisis. During a crisis, you need people who make decisions. But the consensus system does not allow strong decisions to be made”, Juvin concluded.

Read the full interview in French.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Nathalie Weatherald]

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