A unified response will help lower COVID-19 cases more rapidly, writes Ska Keller MEP and Tilly Metz MEP
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Every 17 seconds, a person dies in the EU because of COVID-19. The most significant way to reduce this tragic occurrence is to ensure a low amount of overall COVID cases throughout Europe. The fact that vaccination against COVID-19 has already started across the EU, less than a year from the pandemic outbreak, is a scientific breakthrough worth celebrating.
But it will still take at least until the end of the year before the large scale effects of vaccination are felt. Over 250 renowned scientists argue that the number of COVID-19 cases must diminish substantially and continuously remain low to avoid the ongoing horrific toll on human lives and livelihoods. This reduction must be synchronised across European countries to avoid a ping-pong effect of importing and reimporting the virus across borders. The scientists are also clear that the current European coordination efforts have fallen short, and there is an urgent need for a shared long-term vision to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.
This vaccination programme has shown the limits of the EU’s competence in the field of health. The fact that vaccines are available and equitably distributed across the EU is a laudable achievement for the European Commission.
Those member states accusing the EU of insufficient procurement or selfishly looking to secure additional vaccines by themself are doing so for populist reasons without any scientific basis. In an interconnected Europe, where freedom of movement is a fundamental right, we either reach immunisation across Europe together at a sustained pace, or we will pay the costs of delays and reinforced infection loops.
Instead of questioning the achievements of the European vaccination procurement and distribution strategies, member states need to coordinate closer also in other fields, such as how to deal with limiting the spread of the virus and overcoming the pandemic in the long run.
The Commission has made important recommendations about COVID-19, including one on “Preparedness for COVID-19 vaccination strategies and vaccine deployment”. Yes, according to the EU Treaty, the EU can only complement national policies on public health. But that cannot be an excuse to ignore such recommendations.
Seriously aiming for a substantial reduction in cases will not happen as long as some liberties are allowed in some EU countries, while forbidden next door, like ski resorts or shopping centres. It will also not happen as long as testing and tracing efforts, a big part of containment and reduction of numbers remains highly disproportionate across member states.
Clearly, no one-size-fits-all solution would work. Adapting to national, regional and even local realities is needed to account for the diversity of the population groups or the healthcare providers’ availability and quality. However, more Europe and not less is needed to ensure we minimise the number of deaths from COVID-19 and its devastating social and economic impacts. Lowering the incidence of COVID-19 cases across the European continent will ensure lives are spared and allow for more stable economic outlooks as it would diminish the need for strict lockdowns.
We can spare a lot of loss and suffering before the end of 2021, when the vaccination campaign’s large-scale effects are expected.
European member states need to come closer together, follow the European Commission’s recommendations, implement common guidelines and embrace the vision that we cannot overcome this in a long-lasting manner in one European country and not others.
This effort also requires increased global solidarity, particularly with the Western Balkans and our eastern neighbourhood by making vaccines available at affordable costs. And above all, it involves solidarity among EU member states, ambition and vision. In this case, the European interest is the national interest and vice-versa. We expect that national leaders finally act upon this.