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Europe in the pandemic: research and innovation for a more resilient health System

The subject is highly topical. On Monday, 7 September 2020, from 14.00, the Conference of Chairpersons of committees on health, research and digital affairs from the national parliaments and the European Parliament will be examining the COVID-19 pandemic and the lessons which can be learned from it for the health policies of the EU and its member states. The second part of the conference – from 16.15 – will discuss issues such as how health research in the EU can be boosted further and what areas of research should receive particular support with regard to efforts to tackle COVID-19 and future pandemics. The various topics are linked by the question of how better use can be made of digital options. This is the second inter-parliamentary conference to be held in the framework of the Parliamentary Dimension of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU; it is taking place as a video conference due to the pandemic.

The conference will be streamed live on www.parleu2020.de from 14.00

The conference is being hosted by three committee chairpersons from the German Bundestag: Erwin Rüddel (CDU), Chair of the Committee on Health; Ernst Dieter Rossmann (SPD), Chair of the Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment; and Manuel Höferlin (FDP), Chair of the Committee on the Digital Agenda. The Conference of Chairpersons – which is being held as a video conference, and can be watched as a livestream on www.parleu2020.de from 14.00 – will include six keynote statements. The most prominent speaker is undoubtedly Professor Christian Drosten, Director of the Institute of Virology at Berlin’s Charité hospital, who has regularly spoken out publicly in recent months and whose statements have proven polarising. As a result, some laud him as a top scientist whose findings and contributions to the debate have led to Germany coming through the coronavirus crisis relatively unscathed so far, while others hold him responsible for the lockdown, school closures and the requirement to wear face masks.

Top virologist Christian Drosten will give one of the keynote statements

Drosten will speak during the second part of the event, which has the title “Cross-border cooperation in health research and European research funding to support sustainable crisis management”. His fellow speakers will be Jean-Eric Paquet, Director-General of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, and Petra de Sutter, Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. The second part of the conference, which is scheduled to begin at 16.15, will be chaired by Dr Ernst Dieter Rossmann, a politician specialising in research policy from the SPD parliamentary group.

Rossmann opposes “cutbacks to research funding programmes”

Rossmann said that he would be pleased “if we, as representatives of the national parliaments, send a signal to the governments of the member states and, in particular, back our colleagues in the European Parliament in the negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework”. He called on them to hold firm and oppose attempts, hinted at by some governments, to make “cutbacks to research funding programmes” and to scientific and educational exchange in Europe. For: “Every euro that we invest in research, science and lived exchange in Europeans’ educational biographies is returned several times over.” He argued that this is where the foundation is laid for a strengthened European identity, as well as for a science sector which is conscious of its responsibilities and internationally competitive.

Rüddel: The health system can benefit from closer cooperation within the EU

“Solidarity and sovereignty: for a more resilient health system in Europe” is the title of the first part of the conference. Following introductory remarks by Thomas Oppermann (SPD), Vice-President of the Bundestag, the session will be chaired by Erwin Rüddel (CDU), Chair of the Bundestag’s Committee on Health. Sandra Gallina, Deputy Director-General of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, will speak on this topic – as will Peter Liese, a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, and Andrea Ammon, Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

In the run-up to the event, the Chair of the Bundestag’s Committee on Health has made the point that “the health system, in particular, can benefit from closer cooperation within the EU and a resulting increase in the quality of healthcare”. Rüddel therefore welcomes greater European cooperation, but he added: “Given the differences which exist, I still believe that national parliaments are responsible for shaping the individual health systems.”

Digitalisation of the health system

Particularly in view of how different the systems are, the CDU politician believes it is important to drive forward the digitalisation of the health system, so that the different systems can communicate with each other more effectively. One important example of the added value of greater European cooperation is, in his view, the coronavirus app. “I believe that a very good app has been developed here in Germany,” Rüddel said. Particularly during the holiday season, “but at other times as well, in an integrated Europe”, he believes that the compatibility of the individual coronavirus apps should be examined, in order to ensure their effectiveness across borders. “In this context, a standardised approach within the EU would have made sense, in order to optimise the benefits of this app for all citizens in efforts to tackle the pandemic.”

Major concerns about IT security and data protection in relation to the electronic patient record system

Digitalisation – this is a subject of particular interest to Manuel Höferlin (FDP), Chair of the Bundestag’s Committee on the Digital Agenda, who will speak during the discussion. Höferlin talked about the electronic patient record system, which will be introduced in Germany from the coming year. Yet major concerns still exist about IT security and data protection in this context, he said. The Chair of the Committee on the Digital Agenda is calling for Germany to look to Estonia, a country which is a digital pioneer. “It has long had a secure system which complies with data protection requirements; the system allows access to data if a legitimate interest exists, without requiring a complicated permissions management system, and it includes appropriate sanctions in the case of misuse.” The FDP politician argued that it should be a model for Germany.

Paper issued by Members of the European Parliament

Manuel Pizarro, a substitute member of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, will also speak during the first part of the conference. He co-authored a paper issued by several Members of the European Parliament, including Peter Liese and the Franco-Greek MEP Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, on the subject of EU health policy against the background of the pandemic. One of the calls made in the paper is for a European health response mechanism to ensure that Europe is better prepared for health crises of all kinds and better able to develop a joint and coordinated response to them. The eight-point paper also touches on digitalisation. “Digital solutions to fight the corona crisis must be encouraged”, the paper states. (hau/02.09.2020)

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