EU and WHO: interview with Nathalie Chaze, from the DG Sante

Giuseppe Scognamiglio interviewed Nathalie Chaze, from the Health and Food Safety Directorate General at the European Commission

European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Josep Borell, EU Parliament President David Sassoli, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus arrive to attend a state tribute in memory of Spain's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victims, at the Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain July 16, 2020. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

The DG Sante (Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety) Strategic Plan for 2016-2020 was testifying of a strong ambition in reinforcing the coordinated EU input in the WHO Governing Body Resolutions. The target for 2021 was as high as 95% for the WHO Executive Board, 90% for the World Health Assembly and 90% of the WHO Committee for Europe. In your view, how close are we from these objectives? Has Covid rather reinforced the EU’s trajectory in that sense?

Strengthening international preparedness for – and response to – future pandemics remains a top priority for the EU. From the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, the EU has led efforts to promote a multilateral response to the pandemic and prepare better for future health emergencies, with the WHO in lead on health. With the Resolution on strengthening WHO preparedness and response to health emergencies, which the 74th World Health Assembly just adopted, the European Union and its Member States, for the second year in a row, have spearheaded a resolution at the World Health Assembly, which guides the global action on pandemics. The COVID-19 pandemic has indeed further reinforced the coordination between EU Member States in their input to WHO Governing meetings. Indeed, in 2021 EU and its Member States are developing coordinated EU positions on practically all topical resolutions and decisions tabled at these sessions, for which an EU competence exists.

As far as we can tell, the updated strategic plan for DG Sante (2021-2024) does not as heavily refers to the EU-WHO cooperation as the previous one. Should that be understood as a (pre-Covid) shift of focus or rather that the core of EU-WHO relations has been transferred to another unit or institution?

DG SANTE continues to coordinate the relations with WHO on behalf of the Commission. In fact, the relations between DG SANTE and the WHO, both its Headquarters and its Regional Office for Europe, have reached an unprecedented depth. One signal of the high commitment in both organisations to engaging on even closer cooperation is the Joint Statement of the European Commission and the WHO Regional Office for Europe of September 2021, “A deeper and result-oriented partnership for health in  Europe”.

The virtual World Health Assembly of November 2020 has shown that even under the current circumstances there was space for the EU to lead debates and influence outcomes of WHO Governing Bodies. Is that in your understanding the result of a lasting evolution of the place of the EU within the WHO or rather a conjunctural consequence of the temporary US withdrawal from the organization?

The lead role of the EU in WHO Governing body meetings reflects the priority which the EU attaches to strengthening multilateralism, with the WHO in lead on health. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the need to increase preparedness and response capacities against future pandemics, have shown to be more important than ever.

Read the statement by our Director Giuseppe Scognamiglio for the European Council of Foreign Relations (ECFR) "Europe’s post-pandemic strategy for the WHO".

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