Cross-border health threats
Member states reject measures that encroach on their sovereignty
By Sophie Petitjean | Friday 22 June 2012
The member states’ health ministers commit to react more effectively to serious cross-border threats to health, such as the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, the cloud of volcanic ash in 2010 or the E.coli outbreaks in 2011. But they refuse to consider measures that would encroach on their national sovereignty. This, in substance, is what emerged from the policy debate on the draft decision on serious cross-border threats to health, at the Health and Consumer Policy Council, on 22 June. This message, which supports the broad outlines of the compromise drawn up by the Danish Presidency
(1), will serve as the basis for further Council work with a view to adoption in late 2013.
During their debate, the ministers agreed to make available to the Commission “information [...] on non-sensitive elements [...] of their preparedness and response planning”. A majority of states nevertheless rejected the measure obliging them to consult one another in the Health Security Committee before updating their planning.
The ministers back the idea of giving a stronger role to the Health Security Committee. This body, which exists at EU level to discuss the management of health crises caused by chemical, biological and environmental events, has no legal mandate. According to the Council, it should become a permanent body composed of high-level representatives appointed by national public health authorities. It should nevertheless remain flexible and be able to involve experts depending on the category of threat.
Most delegations also backed the Danish Presidency’s proposal to delete Article 12 of the Commission’s proposal, which provides for adoption of common temporary public health measures at EU level “where the coordination of national responses proves insufficient to control the spread of a serious cross-border health threat between the member states or to the Union”. Health Commissioner John Dalli, who attended the debate, was particularly disappointed with this deletion. “This is not about encroaching on member states’ competences but about supplementing their action when they are overwhelmed and when protection of public health is threatened,” he commented.
Further discussions will be needed on the scope of the proposal, planning and preparedness, risk evaluation and international agreements.
The vote by the European Parliament, co-legislator on this issue, is set for November.
A majority of states rejected the measure obliging them to consult one another in the Health Security Committee before updating their planning.(1) See register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/12/st10/st10770.en12.pdf