In today’s (16 September) ‘State of the European Union’ address to the European Parliament, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen began by thanking all those health workers and emergency responders who ‘produced miracles’ during the initial surge of COVID-19. The pandemic has demonstrated the EU’s capabilities, but also its limitations. Von der Leyen is looking to the horizon and is calling for a US-style biomedical research agency.
While Europe’s national health services were tested to - and sometimes beyond - their limits, many asked what was the EU doing. Von der Leyen outlined how “Europe” had made a difference. When EU states closed borders, the EU intervened creating green lanes so that goods could continue to flow. The EU was also instrumental in returning 600,000 European citizens who found themselves stranded across the globe. The EU helped ensure that critical medical goods should go where they were needed. The Commission also worked with European industry to increase the production of masks, gloves, tests and ventilators. The European Medicines Agency, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and a rapidly established further expert group and a myriad of other measures came into play. However, the EU’s treaties have given the European Union a very limited and heavily circumscribed role in health matters.
Von der Leyen said that it is “crystal clear” that the EU needs to build a stronger European health union. The president outlined three main ways she was hoping to step up Europe’s actions. Firstly she wants to reinforce and empower the European Medicines Agency and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Secondly, she wants to build a European BARDA (Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority is a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), the American agency for biomedical advanced research and development. The new agency would support the EU’s capacity and readiness to respond to cross-border threats and emergencies whether of natural or deliberate origin. Thirdly, she said there was a need for limited stockpiling and resilience in the supply chain, which proved vulnerable at the start of the outbreak.
Finally, she said that since the crisis was global, global lessons had to be learned. Europe has led the world in a global response to finding and producing a vaccine. At a European level, von der Leyen said it was necessary to look at the European competencies in the field of health. She has decided that this is one of the issues that should be addressed through the work on the conference on the future of Europe.
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Ahead of a debate on the rule of law in Bulgaria (5 October), protestors and MEPs gathered outside the parliament to call for systemic change and new elections in Bulgaria. EU Reporter spoke to some of those involved. Professor Vladislav Minekov, has been labelled as one of the ‘Poisonous Trio’ by the oligarch-owned Bulgarian media. Asked what was keeping protestors on the streets ninety days after the first impromptu protest on 9 July, he said that Bulgarians don’t want to live under the Mafia. Minekov welcomed that the European Parliament was grappling with this important question, saying that Bulgarians had the impression that the EU and the world was overlooking what was happening in Bulgaria.
One of six MEPs we interviewed, Clare Daly MEP (Ireland), compared the current Bulgarian government to vampires feeding off EU money, “sucking the lifeblood out of Bulgarian society,” she said that the European Peoples’ Party, in particular, had protected Borissov’s government for too long and that it was time to face up to the blatant corruption and failure to adhere to the rule of law. 'Brussels for Bulgaria' has organized weekly protests in Brussels since the protests began in July.
One of the organizers, Elena Bojilova, said that Bulgarians abroad want to show solidarity with their fellow countrymen: “We've had people join us from other cities from Ghent, from Antwerp.” Bojilova explained that this phenomenon was also occurring in many other countries, “in Vienna, in London, in Canada in the United States, other European capitals. The fact that we are not physically in Bulgaria does not prevent us from supporting the efforts of our countrymen, and we fully support their demands which are for the resignation of the government, resignation of the Prosecutor General, reform rule of law and basically cleaning up the
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