MEPs vow to strengthen role of EU’s agency on infectious diseases

"Our proposals aim to strengthen cooperation and exchange of information, expertise and best practices between Member States and the Commission, the Health Security Committee and the ECDC itself. It is about improving preparedness and coordination of interventions to manage health challenges", said rapporteur Joanna Kopcińska (RCE, PL). [PIOTR NOWAK/EPA]

EU lawmakers on Wednesday (15 September) adopted by a large majority the proposal to extend the mandate of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Following debates in Parliament’s plenary session on Monday, MEPs extended the mandate of the EU agency established in 2005 to help the EU fight infectious diseases.

“Our proposals aim to strengthen cooperation and the exchange of information, expertise and best practice between member states and the Commission, the Health Security Committee and the ECDC itself. This is about improving preparedness and coordination of interventions to manage health challenges”, said Joanna Kopcińska, the Polish MEP who piloted the proposal through Parliament.

MEPs want EU member countries to develop national preparedness and response plans and provide timely, comparable and high-quality data.

“We agreed to step up analysis and modelling to help Member States control disease outbreaks by collecting and processing more epidemiological data, while preserving core national competences in health protection,” Kopcińska explained.

Secondly, MEPs hope to secure the extension of ECDC’s mandate to major non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including cancer, diabetes and mental illness. Until now, ECDC has only covered communicable diseases.

EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides expressed doubts about extending the mandates. “We believe that some of the amendments need to be or should be reconsidered, especially as regards the extension of the ECDC’s mandate to non-communicable diseases, because this would put a huge strain on the agency’s resources, which would weaken rather than strengthen its work,” she said during the debate on Monday.

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Strengthen the European Health Union

In July, EU health ministers agreed to strengthened the provisions on data protection related to the ECDC. “Personal data will not be processed or communicated, except in cases where this is strictly necessary for the fulfilment of the ECDC’s mission,” the Council said in a statement.

The plans are part of a broader package on the European Health Union. The Commission proposed a new health security framework in November 2020, based on the lessons learned from the Covid-19 health crisis.

Brussels also announced the creation of HERA, a new health agency that is expected to start operating in early 2022.

Yesterday MEPs also adopted legislation aimed at strengthening EU crisis prevention, preparedness and response to future serious cross-border health threats by a wide 594 votes to 85 margin.

“I am very pleased that the Parliament’s amendments preserve the Commission’s health security framework that was envisaged,” concluded Stella Kyriakides, at the end of the plenary session.

Trialogue negotiations between MEPs and ministers, aimed at producing a compromise on the new legislation, are due to start on 27 September.

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[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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