The survey analysis was published by VoxEU, and a brief summary is also available on POLITICO. The UvA researchers argue that the EU needs a robust policy framework with substantial centralisation of procurement, stockpiling and allocation of medical countermeasures against infectious diseases. They call on political leaders to develop a more effective common European approach.
Traditionally, medicines against infectious diseases are purchased and stored nationally. In the survey, the researchers asked Dutch citizens – prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 - whether they would support the EU if it were to carry out the joint purchase, storage and coordinated deployment of medicines against epidemics. A substantial majority of the respondents was in favour of this; only a minority turned out to be against. The researchers are now repeating the survey on a larger scale in five European member states.
The researchers underscore the fact that the idea itself is not new. The European Commission has been trying to organise the joint procurement of medical countermeasures since the outbreaks of SARS and bird flu. But it was only really possible to establish a system of joint procurement after the swine flu outbreak, when many countries bought too many vaccines, whilst other countries were confronted with shortages. However, contrary to what the Commission wanted, this remains a voluntary system.
Recently, 15 countries jointly pre-purchased a pandemic flu vaccine, and now 25 countries have put out a tender for resources to help fight COVID-19. However, the researchers’ assessment is that the systems is flawed: the allocation is based on the agreement, with only limited flexibility to prioritise member states where the need is greatest.
What needs to happen?
The researchers argue that the purchase, storage and allocation of medicines and equipment to fight large-scale and dangerous infectious diseases should be organised at a central EU level. Joint storage also requires joint procurement of medicines with central control by the EU. This has the advantage that there is a stronger position with regard to manufacturers when purchasing, so countries cannot be played off against with the threat of not delivering if they do not pay enough. Joint procurement and storage must also be accompanied by a centrally controlled use of medicines. In the past, member states were reluctant to adopt such a common European approach, but recent events have shown how disastrous it can turn out to be if it is ‘Every man for himself’. The research shows that citizens are very open to European solidarity to counter a health crisis. Hopefully the politicians will follow, the researchers conclude.
The research was carried out by a team in which various different academic disciplines were represented, consisting of: Anniek de Ruijter (associate professor of EU Health Law), Roel Beetsma (professor of Marcoeconomics), Brian Burgoon (professor of International Political Economy), Francesco Nicoli (until recently a researcher at AISSR and now assistant professor of Economic Policy, University of Ghent), and Frank Vandenbroucke (university professor).
The study was made possible by the Amsterdam Centre for European Studies.