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Strengthening the EU’s Response Capacity to Health Emergencies: Insights from EU Crisis Management Mechanisms

Despite an increased EU role in the preparedness, monitoring and coordination of health emergencies over the past two decades, Member States’ responses to the first wave of COVID-19 were surprisingly uncoordinated. In light of calls to improve cooperation regarding future health emergencies, this article discusses the creation of EU surveillance, preparedness and response mechanisms for health emergencies. Using insights from previous research and secondary literature, Cabane and Beaussier highlight gaps in the existing serious cross-border health threats regulatory framework and discuss opportunities for further EU action. Based on a comparison with other EU crisis management mechanisms.

Lydie Cabane, Anne-Laure Beaussier
01 October 2020

Over the past two decades, the EU has indeed considerably expanded its ability to manage cross-border crises. It has not only developed monitoring and decision-making capacities at the EUlevel, but it also has adopted multi-level arrangements across policy domains to steer coordination between Member States and streamline crisis preparedness and response. Crisis management in the EU is fundamentally about how to coordinate Member States’ actions to prepare for and respond to cross-border threats. Arguably, the issue of how to coordinate crisis response in the EU comes down to two critical dimensions. First, who has the power to make decisions (ie who has the competence and the ability to exert or acquire it: the EU or Member States)? Traditionally, crisis management is a core state power, characteristic of sovereignty. Yet, in a Union that is more and more integrated, crises span across borders and call for joint action at the EU level. The second dimension relates to the question of how the EU can enforce solidarity in crisis management. In other words, how prescriptive can the EU be when intervening in Member States’ preparedness and response policies: does the EU incentivise Member States to cooperate, or does it require them to do so through binding arrangements?


In the rest of the article, Cabane and Beaussier first analyse the current EU response mechanism to large-scale health threats. Then they review different EU crisis management mechanisms that present policy instruments that are potentially relevant for the health regime. Finally, based on these considerations, they argue that, without even changing the current distribution of competences, it is possible to improve the current EU system for responding to cross-border health threats. Cabane and Beaussier also propose a series of changes to Decision 1082/2013 to improve the consistency of public health preparedness and coordination of Member States in times of crisis.

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