This comment has been written in cooperation with Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, SWP).
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Union (EU) was neither a strong promoter of global health nor a strong supporter of the World Health Organization (WHO). The Global Health Council Conclusions from 2010 were never comprehensively implemented and quickly forgotten. With the pandemic greatly affecting EU member states, the EU is increasingly interested in upholding multilateral cooperation in the global health field. Therefore, the EU should aim for an upgrading of the EU’s status in WHO, the establishment of a global health unit in the European External Action Service (EEAS), and an overhaul of the formal relationship between the European Commission and WHO.
The pandemic discloses the discrepancy between the EU advocating for global access to a COVID-19 vaccine while at the same time safeguarding its own access to it. Its refusal to alter patent laws that serve to protect the commercial and innovation interests of pharmaceutical companies based in EU countries can equally be questioned on grounds of global solidarity. A revamped global health strategy is needed to overcome such issues and make the EU a reliable and capable partner on global health that gives WHO a central role.