Health policy is at the heart of demands for EU treaty reform after MEPs voted on Thursday (9 June) for EU leaders to establish a constitutional convention to reopen the EU treaties.
MEPs also requested the abolition of the unanimity vote in fields like sanctions and emergencies, alongside the creation of a more united EU in health, energy, defence, social and economic policies.
Treaty change was one of the main proposals to emerge from the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), the EU’s deliberative democracy experiment which has run for the past year.
“We owe the citizens who we assembled and worked together with for months, we’ve promised them one thing – that we will take their proposal seriously,” said MEP Gabriele Bischoff in the EU Parliament debate, on behalf of the S&D group.
“That’s why it’s important that we clearly list the areas which are important to us and to the citizens. In other words, a Health Union and Energy Union,” she added.
Health could be the main driver
The topic of health could help convince all member states to proceed with treaty change, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola told EURACTIV in an interview.
The Union should provide a strong response on this topic after what citizens have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, Metsola explained.
“This is something that all member states, including those that said they do not want the change of the treaties, will accept,” the President said.
Metsola referred to the group of 13 countries that in a letter in early May opposed treaty change, which they considered “premature” and a risky process when the EU is facing multiple crises. Despite Metsola’s comments, EU member states have previously been very cautious about giving the EU greater competence in the field of health policy.
Wave of support for more competencies on health
The EU’s lack of preparedness at the start of the COVID pandemic has prompted a series of initiatives to be rolled out as part of the European Health Union, a European Commission blueprint aimed at making European health systems more robust and prepared for future crises.
This includes the establishment of the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA), the launch of the European Health Data Space, the upcoming revision of the EU’s pharmaceutical strategy and the strengthening of the mandates of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Recent opinion polls indicate growing public support for a greater EU role in health policy.
“To achieve that [the recommendations], citizens feel that there may be a need for health to be a shared competence between member states and the EU, even if that would entail a treaty change,” said Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission and chair of the CoFoE working group on health back in March.
While Šefčovič explained the complexities of treaty change to the attention of the CoFoE participants, the citizens’ ambassador in the working group on health, Nicolas Moravek, said that “we at least have to try” if that is what citizens want.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]