The European Commission approved on Wednesday the contract for the advance purchase of 300 million units of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is 90% effective according to the first preliminary studies and has unleashed a wave of economic optimism. In Spain, where there have been over 40,000 deaths, 10 million units are expected early next year to begin vaccinating the most vulnerable sectors of the population and health professionals.
This is the fourth agreement of its kind to be concluded by the Commission, which is taking advantage of the health crisis caused by the pandemic to show the advantages of joint EU action when it comes to the procurement of health material. Before this agreement, Brussels had already secured 1.1 billion vaccines from the various trials being carried out by various pharmaceutical companies. In a way, the pandemic highlights the advantages of being part of a supranational entity such as the EU, since it has more negotiating power with the multinational pharmaceutical companies.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who is a doctor by training, wants to go even further and has once again stressed the need for the European executive to have more power in the health field. For example, she advocates that Brussels should be able to declare a state of health emergency at European level and that Community agencies such as the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) should have more say in decision-making.
It makes perfect sense for the EU to coordinate certain policies, such as the arrival of non-EU travellers from countries with a high incidence of the virus. Other decisions, such as perimeter closures or partial containment, need to be taken at a more local level. What cannot be repeated is the chaos that occurred during the first wave, when the different states closed their borders, not trusting anyone and once again tearing the Schengen treaty to shreds. Action must be agreed and coordinated.
The EU must have a common policy, including common indicators, and a supranational coordination body that can only be the European Commission. Von der Leyen must take advantage of the situation to demonstrate to the public that the European institutions can be useful in times of crisis such as we are experiencing, whether it be buying vaccines, distributing aid or controlling the flow of travellers. The Member States must take a further step in transferring sovereignty to the Commission on health coordination policies for an area that affects 500 million Europeans.
The European Union's future is at stake in this health and economic crisis. If it manages to demonstrate the effectiveness of the common institutions, Von der Leyen will have taken a giant step forward. The next step will be for the states to unblock the agreement for the great reconstruction plan of the European economy, endowed with 750 billion euros, which is currently pending on Hungary.