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European Parliament backs pandemic health research plans

MEPs want ‘far stronger role’ for EU, including joint research

The European Parliament has called for the EU to do more to protect public health in its member countries in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, including by supporting more joint health research.

In a resolution adopted on 10 July, the Parliament lent its support to a European Commission proposal to set up an EU health programme with a budget of €9.4 billion for 2021-27. The proposed EU4Health programme would support health innovation in the EU, including the application of research funded by the bloc’s R&D programme, Horizon Europe.

But the Parliament went further, calling for a “coordinated, collaborative and open approach to research and innovation, with a stronger role for the Commission and member states in coordinating health and epidemiological research so as to avoid duplication and drive research towards outcomes including needed medicines, vaccines, medical devices and equipment”.

It said the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control should get a bigger budget and mandate, and called on the EU to explore the option of creating “a European equivalent to the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority”. This “would be responsible for the procurement and development of countermeasures against bioterrorism, chemical, nuclear and radiological threats, as well as pandemic influenza and emerging disease”.

Separately, the Parliament also approved the Commission’s proposal to temporarily suspend some of the EU’s rigid rules around genetically modified organisms, to allow Covid-19 vaccines that use transgenic viruses to be quickly rolled out if they are shown to be safe.

EU interventions into public health are limited by its foundational treaties, which only allow the Commission to “complement national policies” and “encourage cooperation” between states.