The epidemic we face has tested the limits of health systems. As in any crisis, the ability to respond to challenges has been mixed and old inequalities have been intensified. Hence, there is an urgent debate about establishing a European Health Federation.
This article appears in the context of the discussion that took place, online, on 5 April, of the advantages and weaknesses of the European Health Union. This discussion was part of Live Economics, a conference course organized by students from Nova SBE (more info in www.economiaviva.ptIt counted on the presence of Miguel Guimarães, President of the Medical Association, Ricardo Battista Light, Vice-President of the Republican Assembly, Adalberto Campos Fernández, Assistant Professor at the Medical College of Nova, and Pedro Pieta Barros, Full Professor of the Nova SBI.
The starting point for any discussion, without compromising its validity, can be the access point. So, let me start with the vaccination process that started three months ago in the European Union. From a token gesture to start vaccination on the same day to joint purchase of vaccines, the committee reveals its focus on intensifying cooperation in the field of health. This initiative may have prevented the intensification of structural inequalities between more financially trained members and more developed, fragile, and heavily indebted countries, such as Portugal.
The President of the European Commission has already made clear her intention to strengthen cooperation between member states, after she stated, in October 2020, that “we will build the foundations for a stronger European Health Union, in which 27 countries work together”. The Commission’s proposals aim to strengthen coordination in combating health crises and to strengthen the powers of supranational bodies such as the European Medicines Agency.
Thus, we aim for a clear and objective analysis, which explores the weaknesses and advantages of establishing a European Health Union and greater integration at the European level.
It is important to note that recovery from health crises is linked to recovery from the economic crises that they cause. In this way, progressive integration in the health field can allow for a greater symmetry of shocks, increasing the benefits of integration in the monetary domain. However, as noted at the time of the sovereign debt crisis, further integration may stimulate an old problem, which is the delay in decision-making within the union.
It seems legitimate to say that the more the integration process transcends national boundaries, the less the risk of this delay associated with discussion and the need for consensus; However, the opposition of states advocating the loss of their sovereignty will grow unacceptably. The right (but difficult) balance between these two realities can be the key to success.
It is also important to analyze a key point. Even before the pandemic, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development expected a gradual and large increase in public and private health expenditures. Thus, progressive integration in health, combined with stronger cooperation at the financial level, can be beneficial, allowing debt-ridden members to invest in health without compromising financial sustainability. Additionally, there may be benefits associated with economies of scale, hospital management and investment in technology and medicines.
At a time of testing European cohesion as we grapple with one of the biggest challenges of the past decades, it is imperative to debate the European Health Union, whether to defend its potential advantages or to warn of the impending dangers.
The published article is a result of the partnership between Jornal Económico and Nova Economics Club, the Economics Student Group at the Nova School of Business and Economics.