Fit for purpose: The EU’s role in global health in the era of COVID-19

To improve Europe’s role as a global health actor, the EU and its member states will need a clear strategy as well as better coordination.

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    Although COVID-19 is having a significant impact on the economy, politics and health, it did not cause a fundamental change in the rules of the game when it comes to the EU’s limited role as a global health player. The block needs to address persistent coordination issues between the EU and its member states – as well as across EU institutions – if it wishes to enhance its effectiveness and credibility in this arena. A robust updated global health strategy that links the various fields of EU intervention would help to make its action more impactful and consistent. But a strategy and high-level political commitment alone will not do the trick. Political imagination will need to go into easing Europe-wide collaboration. The EU’s political messages on international cooperation to face the pandemic are welcome, as are timely new initiatives in many areas of EU action. But questions remain on the scale of the response as well as its impact.

    The new EU budget 2021-2027 will be the most important opportunity to catalyse funds and to strengthen EU action on global health. But the topic of health will need to climb a long list of priorities to form a meaningful part of EU programming. At the moment, despite the evident fragility of the global health response to COVID-19, the economic recovery is still the main preoccupation for policymakers – in Europe and beyond. The pandemic also represents an opportunity to build a more equal partnership with Africa, building on the ability of African societies and governments to quickly adopt effective measures.

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