Health NGOs ask Commission to reconsider “crucial aspects” of HERA

Margaritis Schinas, Stella Kyriakides and Thierry Breton presenting HERA in Brussels 16 September 2021. [OLIVIER HOSLET/EPA]

Nineteen European health organisations have asked that HERA be more transparent, prioritise the public interest, and involve Parliament more in the decision-making process, in a joint letter published on Wednesday, 3 November.

The Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) is the new European health agency launched last September by the Commission to complete the European Health Union. Since its creation, the agency has faced criticism from NGOs and MEPs. 

The list of concerns was signed by 19 organisations, including the European Alliance for Responsible R&D and Affordable Medicines, the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), the Treatment Action Group (TAG) and Médecin du Monde International Network (MdM International.

“The EU has a unique opportunity with HERA and other pieces of the European Health Union to lead global actions to address health emergencies”, EPHA told EURACTIV on behalf of all the NGOs. 

The letter highlights four priorities for the Commission and the Council to reconsider. 

HERA should work for the “public interest”, focus Research and Development (R&D) on “public health needs”, remain “accountable” to EU citizens, and strengthen the EU’s position as a world leader for “equitable and affordable access to medical tools”. 

In its current form, there is insufficient clarity about the mechanisms that would be put in place to guarantee good governance, transparency and accountability, the organisations said.

They also call for a “democratic and participatory debate” between the Council, the Commission, the Parliament, and civil society, regretting the lack of “meaningful discussions” so far.

“HERA’s transparency and accountability, as well as a strong involvement of the European Parliament, and other stakeholders, are key preconditions for HERA to deliver its promises”, signatories told EURACTIV. 

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Angry MEPs

This recommendation comes when there are tensions between the Parliament and the Commission, as MEPs have long complained about being left out of the decision-making process. 

Last week, during an ENVI committee meeting, the Commission’s Matthew Hudson was there to appease relationships between the two institutions and “make sure that there is involvement in the European Parliament”.

Despite this, MEPs expressed concerns about the new body potentially taking resources from the €5.1 billion EU4Health programs, of which €2.8 billion is earmarked for HERA. 

Green MEP Michèle Rivasi said the EU4Health program should just be named  “the EU health agency and backup program”, adding that she was concerned the Commission was “making fun of” MEPs.

The Commission’s Hudson ensured that the creation of HERA “does not, in any way, change what is laid down in the regulation on EU4Health.”

It is not the first time European health NGOs have joined forces to warn the Commission over the EU healthcare system. 

Last week, the EU’s Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides announced she would reinstate operating grants for health NGOs in the EU4Health programme after an online campaign launched by four health stakeholders under the hashtag #SaveEUHealthNGOs. 

The 2021-2027 EU4Health programme, released on 18 June 2021, was set up to be part of the EU’s “ambitious response to COVID-19”.

Commissioner Kyriakides promised she would get back to the NGOs in the coming weeks to give more details about the future operating grants. 

It seems like she will also have to give further explanations on HERA. 

EU's Kyriakides promises to reinstate grants for health NGOs in EU4Health programme

The European Commission will reinstate operating grants for health NGOs in the EU4Health programme, the EU’s Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides has promised after European health NGOs joined forces in an online campaign this week.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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