Socialist MEP Kathleen Van Brempt was elected at a constitutive meeting on Tuesday (19 April). She will head up the work of the European Parliament’s new special COVID-19 committee, with the goal of better preparing the EU for future pandemics.
“We have a very complex task ahead of us, but for me, the mission of this committee is simple: to prepare the EU for a new crisis by drawing lessons from the pandemic. We see today how important it is and the pandemic has not yet ended,” said Belgian Van Brempt after her election.
At the meeting four vice-chairs were also elected: Andreas Glück from Renew, Ewa Kopacz from the European People’s Party (EPP), Michéle Rivasi from the Greens and Karol Karski from the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR).
Van Brempt highlighted her concern for the level of crisis preparedness in the EU and referenced the handling of the financial crisis, the refugee crisis and the pandemic, hoping that the work of the COVID-19 committee will play a part in increasing preparedness.
“We saw that the EU often lacked the necessary tools to act quickly. And we saw that member states sometimes [didn’t agree] to a European response until it was already too late. Think about the joint procurement of medical equipment,” she said.
“This creates a union that can react to crises but often lacks the political mandate to prepare thoroughly for it. And our task is to fundamentally change that dynamic,” Van Brempt added.
The first committee meeting will take place May 11. As with other special committees, the COVID-19 committee has been granted an initial mandate of 12 months. This mandate can be extended later if MEPs find it necessary.
Very similar goals for the committee
“The timing is just right,” said Van Brempt, emphasising that now is the moment to ensure that the people who steered Europe through the pandemic are still in office and much of the expertise is still present.
“We should use this opportunity the best way that we can,” she added.
The special committee on COVID-19 will also discuss topics that are not specifically related to health, including social aspects, democratic oversight of the pandemic response, the effect on work and much more.
“This wasn’t just a health crisis. […] It was also a crisis of inequality, democracy, fundamental rights and international governance,” Van Brempt said.
Following the new chair’s comments, coordinators from across parties in the European Parliament broadly agreed on the goals and holistic approach.
“I think we are all very much on the same page here, I especially embrace the mission you have outlined: Let’s do it better next time,” said MEP Jutta Paulus, on behalf of the Greens, adding that future pandemics could occur more frequently in the future.
“We need to be as holistic as possible and provide the EU citizens with a comprehensive report [to] give us the opportunity to face other future occurrences, and report lessons from the pandemic with the ultimate aim of being better prepared and to prevent any other crises,” said Stelios Kympouropoulos from the EPP.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]