Against the backdrop of the 70th anniversary of the Schuman declaration, we publish a series on the EU’s future. Our Young Professionals Advisors reflect on the current state of the EU and propose a way forward to overcome the crisis. Read their view on how the EU should manoeuvre through the upcoming economic crisis.
In our previous two articles, we reflected on democracy and the financial crises in the EU. In this article, we’d like to discuss various aspects of science and healthcare in regard to the European Union.
A recap on the state of EU health
Europe became one of the epicentres of the Corona crisis. Even though the European Commission announced a European response to the outbreak under the leadership of President von der Leyen, the joint reaction of the EU came late. For the near and distant future it is time to revive the spirit of unity and to jointly coordinate the way out of the crisis. In the following paragraphs, we share some thoughts about what the EU has done and will do for science and what remains to be done for healthcare.
Root causes: A national focus, but global problems
Healthcare is a challenging domain for the EU. It is a national, in some countries even a local matter, narrowly fitting individual healthcare requirements. Officially, the EU is not in charge of national healthcare systems as according to the European Commission, “EU countries hold primary responsibility for organising and delivering health services and medical care”. Yet there are different expectations towards the EU in this special situation. We realized during a virtual gathering of the Young Professional Advisors in April 2020 that some countries had perceived the EU as an overarching support organisation which would jump in to solve this pandemic. The lack of a bold and coordinated EU response (see also integration) resulted in disappointment – these situations make the EU vulnerable and the EU critics more powerful.
The EU counts on decentralized solutions but faces global problems. In this crisis, the EU experienced the downsides of globalized supply chains, weakening its ability to respond quickly. Calling itself the “world’s biggest trader in pharmaceuticals and medicinal products”, the EU relies on global supplies from India and China (for example France, according to the EU commission, imports over 40% of its drug ingredients). Medical supply is not ensured at all times, as we observed these days; the EU needs to ensure proper risk management along the supply chain and allow for countries to safeguard certain local production. National governments are also required to change healthcare as it is today: Besides the compensation for doctors and nurses, national healthcare infrastructure needs to change. According to the Norwegian healthcare and information systems researcher Prof. Dr. Margunn Aanestad and her colleagues, the healthcare domain is rather slow to adapt to new technology, due to its multi-stakeholder environment and country-specific, heterogeneous infrastructures and regulation. This is true for almost all healthcare systems. To allow for faster collaboration, more efficient operations and less administrative effort is needed. It’s time for large scale digitalisation and standardisation programmes across the EU. But how can the EU help digitize healthcare?
Public-private partnerships (PPP) could offer solutions to transform public services in the EU. The public partner sets the conditions, general principles and maybe also brings initial funding, the private partner contributes best practice knowledge to provide services and run operations. By now, there is sufficient “good practice” for successful cooperation. In contrast to certain digital sectors in the private economy (such as entertainment), education and healthcare are complex, mostly public domains that have not been thoroughly transformed yet. The EU established the ERA-LEARN (European Research Area) platform where it envisions to advance, but also learn from public/ private partnerships. We are keen to hear how projects concerning the infrastructure for digitization can be addressed – potentially via public private partnerships – and keen to hear about programs that might be launched when the crisis is contained.
Now more than ever: Transfer from science to practice – excel at solutions
The EU might have its limitations for solving everyday problems, but its capacity to “move the needle” and address long term issues is very promising. However, the transfer of knowledge from science to practice cannot be hurried. Europeans may benefit from more than EUR 10 bn in health research investment via the Horizon 2020 program, but it will take time until we see the results of the current investments for building large shared infrastructure in science. As vaccine development still progresses, we must learn to adapt. Researchers at Harvard Business School predict we will experience more of these disruptive health events in the future. In this crisis and others to come, not only the physical but also the psychological health of people is at stake. We have to build the architecture for the future of healthcare, as Denise Feldner and Maximilian Meyer, advisors to the German government, state: Governments need to be pragmatic now about how to digitize countries and healthcare systems. We need infrastructure to be in place in order to provide digital medical consultations in sufficient numbers before the next crisis hits.
Building-up a resilient European Industry has to include Healthcare and modern means for innovation – an important lesson going forward.
If we do not invest in the idea to coordinate and unite European industries in healthcare, (following subsidiary principles – not to steer them, but to reinforce benefits) it will be difficult to deal with the next potential outbreak. Even though EU investments in 2021 include large budgets for Open Science (EUR 25.8bn) Global Challenges, Industrial Competitiveness (EUR 52.7bn) and Open Innovation (EUR 13.5) programs, it should focus also on less traditional and more practical means to increase the effectiveness of its programs. Empowering citizens and practitioners with grassroots initiatives in healthcare could be a solution as they know best where the bottlenecks are.
Only large-scale digitization and user-friendly platforms (something the EU itself must learn to adapt for its web pages, too) will enable efficient access and participation of citizens in EU programs. This will also allow citizens to commit to the EU as a strategic union and partnership: Every citizen should have secured access to technology infrastructure on a national and EU level. Startups, incubators, and accelerators play a major role for innovation ecosystems and have to be provided in tandem with seed and venture capital. Activities by the European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT) show that things are moving in the right direction, but the overall budgets need to be reassessed: In a recent innovation challenge that took place during the first half of 2020, the EU gave EUR 50.000 to each of the 120 winning startups – a sum that seems rather symbolic as individual entrepreneurs can, in the best case, afford to employ one additional employee for less than one year. All of that is neither sustainable nor forward looking at all. The EU Commission says that the spending of the EU budget should and will be revised.
We hope that a digital, resilient, and coordinated healthcare ecosystem will become one of many new areas of investment.
The next text will be published tomorrow: Climate/Energy.
Authors: Albert Guasch, Kalina Trendafilova, Dyria Alloussi, Raiko Puustusma, Dinand Drankier, Justinas Lingevicius, Mihkel Kaevats, Karl Luis Neumann, Silja Raunio, Anna Penninger, Armando Guçe, Mihály Szabó, Andranik Hovhannisyan, Raphael Kohler, Jens-Daniel Florian, Elif Dilmen, Eshgin Tanriverdi, Robert Grecu.
About the YPAs: We are a group of 36 United Europe Alumni from 20 countries. We consider ourselves a task force for United Europe e.V.,promoting young leadership from various regions in Europe. We represent diverse and young European voices on the EU’s most pressing issues. We aim to restore trust in the European project among the youth and citizens of Europe. We are a network that promotes professional exchanges between young Europeans and give impulses for a more European way of thinking. We promote plurality and want to generate new ideas for smart analysis of EU policies.