Every evening, thousands of Europeans step out of their confinement for a few minutes to applaud the efforts of every health worker involved in fighting COVID-19. The first time I heard it, it gave me a sense of solidarity, shared responsibility and being part of a strong European community, writes MEP Siegfried Mureșan.
Siegfried Mureșan is a Romanian MEP of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) in the European Parliament.
It is a symbolic act to a devoted hardship. A reminder that we are more interconnected than some want us to believe.
While it is moving to hear the moral support jangling across streets every evening for healthcare workers, we must move past that and do more. A concrete plan to invest, strengthen and prepare the healthcare systems of the EU countries for the next crisis is needed urgently.
For weeks now, we have been witnessing a severe shortage of medical equipment, protective gear, exhausted personnel and understaffed hospitals across Europe. EU governments worked around the clock to find innovative solutions, negotiate and respond to an ever-growing demand of their healthcare systems.
The response of the European Commission to coordinate medical supplies and redirect funds from the EU budget to respond to the first signs of an economic crisis has been commendable.
But while all efforts are started to be oriented to save the economy, we must not lose sight of preparing to save future lives. A healthy and booming economy lies on a healthy and productive workforce.
The Dutch and the French proposals for a COVID-19 Emergency Fund are welcomed but these only treat the symptoms of the problem (economic and social effects), not the cause. We must show solidarity to the most affected countries, like Spain and Italy, but we must also look beyond to prepare for what might still come.
I propose an EU Healthcare Solidarity Fund that addresses not only the economic consequences but also the causes of the COVID-19 crisis. The Fund has as objective to strengthen the healthcare system and put in place adequate crisis management instruments at national and EU level.
The Fund would make available 50 bn EUR to all member states as of the beginning of 1 January 2021, the start of the seven-year EU budget. It would be based on two pillars: €20 billion in non-reimbursable grants and €30 billion in loans available to all EU member states, all accessible within two years.
The first pillar covers the costs EU states incurred during this year’s crisis. It aims at giving countries such as Spain or Italy, but not only, new funds to make up for those that were spent during the crisis. The second pillar plans for the future. It aims at strengthening and making healthcare systems more resilient to be prepared for other crises.
We owe our citizens strong and modern healthcare systems across the EU capable of coping with pandemics.
It is becoming obvious that the free movement of citizens across the union must come together with high healthcare standards. Whether a Dutch travelling to Portugal, a Greek studying in Sweden or a Romanian working in Italy, we must provide so that all of them enjoy high levels of healthcare.
For the past decade, the EU has been grappling with one crisis after another. One lesson we’ve learnt is that we must not lose time and be ready for any situation. We must never again allow bringing our healthcare personnel to the brink and we can never fail again to ensure our citizens have the highest healthcare standards.