Commission Executive Vice-President shares views on the Europe's response and future actions to the COVID-19 crisis

On 4 May 2020, the European Parliament’s IMCO Committee (Internal Market and Consumer Protection) held an exchange views with Margrethe Vestager, Commission Executive Vice-President, on the Europe's response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The debate touched upon a large array of issues, including digital technologies, contact tracing apps, possibilities for EU joint procurement for pharmaceutical products and the EU's industrial sovereignty.

During the debate, Margrethe Vestager insisted on few key points:

Medical supply chains

  • The crisis has shown the need for strategic and strong medical supply chains. Ms. Vestager noted that mono-dependence on one third country is not advisable. Further diversification in supply chains is crucial for the EU.
  • Tomislav Sokol (EPP, HR) asked about industrial sovereignty. Is the pharmaceutical industry an area in which the EU should be aiming to be sovereign? He then asked if reciprocity is a key point in the question of opening EU markets to third countries. He also asked if the common procurement procedure could be extended to other medical supplies in the long-term.
  • Margrethe Vestager responded to Tomislav Sokol by highlighting that:
    • Member states could form procurement alliances in the field of medicines. She also stresses on the importance of reciprocity for procurement.
    • Over the last years, there has been a degree of concentration in the pharmaceutical industry. The Commission has during this crisis worked to ensure intense cooperation between the industry to ensure that there is sufficient supply of medicines.
    • Companies cannot however coordinate on prices and there is a degree of transparency required. 

Digital technologies and strategic digital infrastructure

  • Europe needs to carry on harnessing new technologies such as AI and supercomputers to get control of the virus. The use of strategic digital infrastructure including 5G, quantum computing and robots is also essential in the fight against COVID-19. Those endeavours will not be effective without cybersecurity and digital literacy.

Support for SMEs

  • The EU has tried to release funds to help support SMEs. The EU will mobilize all tools available to ensure that SMEs have access to both funding and digitization assistance.

Multiannual Financial Framework (which is the EU’s long-term budget for 2021-2027)

  • The need to create an the nextEU’s long-term budget with a recovery fund included that works towards a digital and green recovery.
  • The European Commission could present during the week of 18 May its revised proposal on the EU's multiannual financial framework (MFF) for 2021-2027 as well as its first ideas on the post-Covid-19 pandemic recovery plan.

In light with the topic of sovereignty in the area of pharmaceutical industry, Margrethe Vestager didn’t seem inclined to provide a comprehensive response to the issues at stake. However, we observe that there have been more and more initiatives for better organising and delivering health services and medical care at the EU level.

The crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the forefront the fact that Europe’s supply of medicines is in the hands of companies located outside the European Union, especially in China and India. Although reaching EU health sovereignty in the field of medicines is needed for preventing the EU from any shortages in medicines, better EU public health policies and outcomes also rely on more diversified EU imports flows.

In addition, the proposal of forming a joint EU public procurement for pharmaceutical products would be a solution to ensure the supply of affordable medicines in the EU. It would enable a fairer access to certain medical countermeasures, improve security of supply and offer more balanced prices to participating EU countries.

Even though it was planned to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the EC’s 2020 Work Programme, Margrethe Vestager did not provide MEPs with further information on that side. As she is setting the strategic direction of the political priority "Europe Fit for the Digital Age", we could have expected to receive further information on the delay or postponing of key initiatives in areas such as research and innovation, data and artificial intelligence, industries and SMEs.

Date: 12/05/2020 | Tag: | News: 1084 of 1573
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