While MEPs are busy in Strasbourg with the mid-term renewal of high-level roles in the European Parliament, parties are asking themselves how to give health more room in parliamentary business.
As we reach the halfway point in the legislative mandate, European lawmakers are being asked to reshape the internal composition of their main bodies, starting this week with the election of the Parliament’s Bureau: the President of the European Parliament, her 14 Vice-Presidents, plus 4 Quaestors.
All eyes were on Roberta Metsola this morning, the Maltese Christian-democrats MEP who won the bid to succeed the recently passed David Sassoli at the helm of the European Parliament.
While many health access activists might feel wary of Metsola’s previous anti-abortion voting tendencies, she clarified that in her role as president she would represent the position of the Parliament on abortion and not her personal one, in a press briefing after the election.
The chairs and vice-chairs of the 20 parliamentary standing committees will be renewed next week.
While no big changes in the Parliament’s power-sharing are expected, the negotiations sparked a new question: in the wake of COVID-19, has health become too big to fit in the current status quo of parliamentary business?
Currently, public health is one of the many competencies of the Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) – the largest in the European House – which is mainly responsible for environmental policy, public health and chemicals legislation, as well as food safety issues, including veterinary legislation.
This means that, for instance, when it comes to the Parliament’s scrutiny powers over EU agencies, the ENVI committee oversees the work of the European Environment Agency (EEA) and European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), as well as EU’s medicines agency (EMA) and the EU’s infectious disease agency (ECDC), not to mention the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
A heavy workload for its 76 members.
To put into context, the same topics are the daily bread and butter of several Commission’s executive agencies, including DG CLIMA, DG ENER, DG ENVI, DG SANTE, DG GROW, DG MOVE, and the recently settled DG HERA on health emergency preparedness.
Even political groups have started voicing the opinion that the scope is too much for one committee to remain focused on in a single session: jumping from climate change files to the European Health Union, all while juggling delicate dossiers, such as those on the approval of glyphosate.
The head of centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), Manfred Weber, said in a press conference in November that “it is so clear that we have to upgrade health as a new real European issue.”
At that time, his party – which is the largest in the hemicycle – launched the idea of a standing sub-committee on health within the ENVI Committee.
The proposal received a lukewarm welcome by other parties who were still not completely convinced by the format, although not opposed in principle. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t be in favour of something like that,” a source from another party told EURACTIV.
A European Parliament official explained that “these subcommittees do not have their own activities, but they only report to their respective main committee.”
In particular, they do not have direct legislative power, meaning that the decision on a regulation or a directive cannot be voted by the sub-committee, but only by its main committee.
So, while this might give for sure more space for health topics to be discussed in the European Parliament, it would not change a lot from a practical point of view, as MEPs in the ENVI committee will still have to deal with the bulk of the work.
When the three biggest parties – Christian democrats, socialists (S&D) and liberals (Renew Europe) – agreed on the name of Metsola as President on Monday (17 January), they also agreed on setting up a new Parliamentary special committee on health issues.
There are no other details on how this will be created as the parties are still in negotiations, a liberal source confirmed to EURACTIV, but the agreement is looking into setting up a temporary COVID committee.
The formal decision on its creation and the mandate will have to be discussed in a future meeting with parties’ leaders and then adopted by the plenary, another socialist source confirmed, adding that there are no discussions to follow it with any other structure such as a subcommittee.
According to rumours collected by EURACTIV, it seems that socialists also asked and obtained the chair of the COVID special committee.
This is good news for the EU health bubble, as the mandate of the current special committee on health issues, the Beating Cancer (BECA) committee, is about to expire.
The question of how to give more space to health in the House of European democracy has just been pushed back though.
Subscribe to EURACTIV’s Health Brief, where you’ll find the latest roundup of news covering Health from across Europe.
EU4Health work programme adopted. The EU Commission adopted the 2022 EU4Health work programme on Friday (14 January). With a budget of over €835 million, the new work programme will provide EU investment in four focus areas: crisis preparedness, disease prevention, health systems and healthcare workforce, and digitalisation, as it is written in the press release.
COVAX. The COVAX vaccination initiative donated its billionth vaccine on Friday (15 January) to much acclaim, but this is just half the original target.
Commissioner in self-isolation. International partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen is self-isolating after testing positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, Bloomberg reported in their newsletter.
New cancer campaign. On 4 February, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) will launch a new three-year campaign for World Cancer Day that brings together individuals, organisations and governments around the world in an effort to create awareness and help close the gap in cancer care.
Mortality in the EU
Sharp increase in mortality. Around 27% more people died in the European Union than usual during November, the biggest increase in a year as a fresh wave of COVID-19 swept the region, official data showed on Friday (14 January), Eurostat data showed.
Positive news for Legionnaires’. Cases of Legionnaires’ disease reported to the French health agency Santé Publique France decreased in 2020, confirming a downward trend evident over previous years.
Blood donation ban lifted. Men who have same-sex relationships will now be able to donate blood in France with no preconditions, according to the Ministry of Health and the Directorate General of Health on Tuesday (11 January). Same decision was agreed upon in another EU member state, Lithuania, as well.
Mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic has strained the mental health of Europeans and suicide amongst young people is rising, but in a number of countries, national health authorities have provided only patchy responses so far, according to EURACTIV network reporting.
Pregnancy. EMA announced on Tuesday (18 January) that the “latest safety data provide reassurance about use of mRNA vaccines during pregnancy”. EMA’s COVID-19 task force (ETF) undertook a detailed review of several studies involving around 65,000 pregnancies at different stages. The review did not find any sign of an increased risk of pregnancy complications, miscarriages, preterm births or adverse effects in the unborn babies following mRNA COVID-19 vaccination, is stated in the press release.
Developing a vaccine against Omicron. India’s Gennova Biopharmaceuticals is working on an Omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccine candidate that could be ready in a month or two, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
Twindemic. Influenza has returned to Europe at a faster-than-expected rate this winter after almost disappearing last year, raising concerns about a prolonged “twindemic” with COVID-19 amid some doubts about the effectiveness of flu vaccines.
Spread through mail. China is urging people to wear masks and gloves when opening mail, especially from abroad, after authorities suggested the first case of the Omicron coronavirus virus variant found in Beijing could have arrived via a package from Canada.
Djokovic had to leave Australia. Australia cancelled Novak Djokovic’s visa for a second time on Friday (14 January) saying the world tennis number one who has not been vaccinated for COVID-19 may pose a health risk, effectively ending his bid for a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.
Close to half of Spain’s children already have their first COVID-19 jab. More than 1.3 million children aged 5-12 have received their first jab of Pfizer’s paediatric COVID-19 vaccine, although health authorities expressed moderate optimism about the situation as infections with the Omicron variant are rising. By Fernando Heller | EuroEFE.EURACTIV.es
Austria presents February mandatory vaccination law amid protests. Vaccination against the COVID-19 could be mandatory starting in February as per a new law presented Sunday as large-scale protests rocked several Austrian cities. By Nikolaus J. Kurmayer | EURACTIV.de
French lawmakers give vaccine pass final OK. The French National Assembly has adopted the bill introducing the vaccine pass on Sunday evening (16th January). The pass will come into force by the end of the week, replacing the sanitary pass, and granting access to restaurants, transport, venues that will no longer be accessible with PCR or antigen tests. By Davide Basso | EURACTIV.fr
Ireland to allow adopted people automatic access to birth records. Ireland will grant adopted people automatic access to their original birth certificates and the identities of their birth parents under a new law published on Wednesday (12th January). By Molly Killeen | EURACTIV.com
Two in three Croatian parents against advertising unhealthy food to children. About 68% of parents support the introduction of legal restrictions on unhealthy food advertising while children watch television, according to a survey conducted in November. By Zeljko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr
Schools partner with pharmacies to test pupils. Schools will make agreements with local pharmacies to perform screening tests for COVID-19 on their pupils, the president of the National Association of Directors of Groupings and Public Schools (ANDAEP) said on Thursday (13th January). By Silvia Maia | Lusa.pt
Greece to administer fourth dose against COVID. Greece’s National Vaccination Committee has given its green light to a fourth dose of coronavirus vaccine for the immunocompromised and those who suffer from serious chronic diseases. Meanwhile, the EMA opposes a fourth jab for the general population. By Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com and EURACTIV.gr
Ex-minister: Scholz should call confidence vote over mandatory vaccination. German chancellor Olaf Scholz should hold a vote of confidence in the Bundestag, former conservative transport minister Andreas Scheuer said on Tuesday, amid disputes over potential mandatory vaccines. By Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.de
20 January – Debate at the European Parliament’s plenary on sexual and reproductive health and rights in the European Union.
20 January – Integrated Nutrition Cancer Care: A joint approach to policy and practice.
24 January – Supporting Pharma Innovation in Europe.
25 January – Access To High-Cost Medicines: Policy Options for Lower-Income Settings.
26 January – Introducing the Innovative Health Initiative: Europe’s new partnership for health