COVID-19 reveals urgent need for a common European public health approach

More Europe, not less, is needed to tackle systemic societal challenges affecting our health, fix flaws in our health systems and support our health workforce.

As the COVID-19 pandemic holds Europe in its grasp, it is becoming increasingly clear that unprecedented health, social and climate challenges we are facing can only be tackled through closer collaboration at European level. 

Although EU Member States are effectively responsible for the health of their own citizens, major cross-border threats to public health such as COVID-19 further highlight the need for life-saving EU cooperation and coordination. As different countries’ ability to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak as effectively as others is revealed,the crisis has brought to the surface the fundamental inequalities between wealthier and under-financed healthcare systems and shortages in some countries vital health workforce, leading to potentially fatal consequences as the pandemic spreads across Europe.  Many of the existing competences and powers at European level to protect our health are limited or under-used, while the EU does not currently have the mandate to take other crucial actions to better coordinate national governments’ responses.  

The current outbreak is continuing to expose how there has never been a more pressing case, or a more vital moment for Europe to work together for better health for all.  

During the current crisis we need urgent,short-term and resolute measures from the European Commission and EU governments to show solidarity towards each other to ensure fair access to medicines, equipment, devices and expertise. Moreover, supporting the economy and boosting newly-vulnerable industries should not detrimentally affect the EU’s green goals, weakening commitments and resources for the EU Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategies, which are also crucial in the longer-term to improve our health.

However, COVID-19 is one of several common challenges Europe is facing: such as tackling the resurgence of infectious diseases we thought were consigned to history; the direct and indirect health consequences of the climate emergency, such as alarming levels of air pollution; drug-resistant infections; the rising costs of medicines; the silent epidemic in non-communicable diseases; and rising health inequities within countries and across the EU.

We need a common European approach to public health with clear EU competence to support national governments to work more closely together to tackle these challenges and find more effective solutions. More Europe, not less, is needed to fix the flaws in our health systems, balance unjust inequalities in access to healthcare and support our health workforce across Europe. And with over 70% of Europeans wanting the EU to do more for health, they can also count on all our support for stronger and more coordinated actions.

EPHA believes in a European Union which promotes health and well-being for all, and where people can live, work and age in sustainable and healthy environments.

Reiterating the calls we made last year as part of the EU4Health campaign, EPHA calls for: 

  • a new European public health strategy to deliver targeted and effective EU action on health. 
  • an EU leadership at European and national level that respects the current EU treaty provisions on health, as well as our international commitments. 
  •  measures to ensure effective cooperation between the EU and its Member States to address the unprecedented health challenges we are currently facing.

Strong European cooperation is the only way to ensure a coordinated response, in the public interest, to this and any future possible pandemics – as well as to the many other health-challenges Europeans are facing today.

Related content

Visit EPHA’s COVID-19 portal.



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