Open letter to the President of the European Parliament

By Agora of the Inhabitants of the Earth

David Maria SASSOLI

and to the Presidents of the Parliamentary Groups of the EP

Manfred WEBER
Président, EPP

Présidene, PA S&D
Président, Renew Europe

Président, Identity and Democracy

Co-Présidente, Greens/FEA

Co-Président, Greens/FEA

Raffaele FITTO
Co-président, EC&R

Ryszard Antoni LEGUTKO
Co-président, EC&R

Co-président, GUE

Co-présidente, GUE 

A European Health Union for Universal Right, Common Public Good, Justice and Fraternity.

Mr. President of the European Parliament,

Ladies and Gentlemen, Presidents of the Parliamentary Groups 

The European Parliament has approved the creation of a European Health Union (EU4Health) proposed by the European Commission in the framework of the seven-year programme 2021-2027 and which entered into force on 26 March.

9.4 billion euros have been allocated. It’s not large as a percentage of the EU budget (1,100 billion euros for the seven years), but it shows a significant political commitment by the EU for the years to come.  EU4Health is an important idea in the perspective of a) the realisation of the universal right to health, with justice, b) the safeguarding of health as a global public good and c) effective global solidarity and brotherhood among all the inhabitants of the Earth.  In the current context of economic rivalry, the monopolization of vaccines by the richest, injustice and war, there is no health in the world.

Mr. President, we believe that the European Parliament has a decisive role to play in the implementation of the European Health Union, and that it is the most important and deserving one. For the EHU is marked by a few “genetic” defects to which we wish to draw your attention and that of your colleagues, and call on your intervention now. They are:

  • A profound inversion of values
  • The affordable and equitable access to health. It’s not the right approach
  • The patent-centred pharmaceutical strategy is a defeat of the res publica, the common good, justice
  • The shrinking sovereignty of the people
  • The inter-governmental and international model of governance of the European Union.
  • A profound inversion of values.

The founding text of the European Health Union starts from the principle that “health is a necessary and essential condition for economic growth“. No mention is made of the founding principle of any health policy, i.e. the universal right to health.  Health has a value in itself. To be legitimate, it does not need to be an instrument in the service of other ends given as superior, because health  is life, it symbolises life. Adding the colour “green”, as reality proves, is not enough.

More than 30 years ago, this profound inversion of values was already carried out in relation to sustainable development. You may remember it. The concept of SD was developed and proposed as an alternative, as an opposition, or even as a revolt against the destructive development of nature and the devastation of human relations and human rights throughout the world (beyond a few local sectoral and territorial advances). However, the opposition of the business and financial world of the time to SD, as well as of certain powerful states, meant that the famous Brundtland Report (“Our Common Future“, 1987) of the UN International Commission on Sustainable Development was never formally approved by the UN. Moreover, the UN was obliged to only agreed to release it as an analytical document after an imposed compromise consisting of stating in the introduction to the report that “sustainable development is a necessary and important condition for economic growth“! We know what sustainable development has become in this context. Environmental and climatic disasters have continued to worsen in tandem with ‘global economic growth’. So much so that the scientific world now considers that the Covid-19 pandemic is, among other things, linked to the breakdown of the “borders” between the Earth’s living species caused by our “global economic development”. It is unconscionable, Mr. President, to allow health to fall victim to the same inversion of values.

  • The approach of affordable and equitable access to health is not the right answer.

As the right to health has been forgotten, the European Health Union gives priority to “access to health care for all on an equitable and affordable basis“. This principle is in line with the line of thinking that has been asserted since the 1990s and that is at the basis of the UN Global Agenda 2000-2015 “Millennium Development Goals” and reused for the Agenda 2015-2030 “Sustainable Development Goals”.) Regardless of the goal, both agendas rarely speak of universal rights but systematically insist on equitable and affordable access. This is still the case for the “Global Response to Coronavirus” launched in March 2020 under the G2O and supported by the WHO with strong support from the EU and other countries in the “rich” world. The EU President’s statements at the launch of the “Response” leave no room for ambiguity: “We need to develop a vaccine, produce it and distribute it worldwide. And we need to make it affordable“. Global response to coronavirus: EU calls for donations

Equitable and price:affordable access to health does not mean guaranteeing the universal right to health. The goal of equitable access does not imply the levelling of health differences between individuals, and not all inequalities that can be found are necessarily perceived as unfair! There is a difference between equity and justice. Inequalities in income and purchasing power are not questioned in the face of the right to health, the only thing that the public authorities ask of companies, of the market, is that the price should not be exclusionary, which happens regularly. As we know, millions and millions of people stop getting health care, get it wrong or never got it at all because of the price of medicines and medical services.

Affordable access means that no one can have access to pandemic treatments and vaccines unless they pay a price set, reportedly after negotiation with public authorities, by the companies that hold the patent. It does not matter whether the price is paid by the user/customer or, for him, by other subjects (public authorities, social and charitable organisations).

Mr. President, access to health care for all in a fair and affordable way is a systemic hoax. For 30 years, this approach has never made it possible to reduce inequalities and eliminate injustices with regard to human and social rights (health, water, food, housing, education, etc.). Can the European Parliament endorse such a hoax?

  • The patent-centred pharmaceutical strategy is a defeat of the “res publica”, of the common good, of justice, of  freedom.

The central pillar of the European Health Union is based on the pharmaceutical strategy, i.e. the EU’s capacity to produce, use and market all health-related instruments (tests/diagnostics, medicines, vaccines, etc.) with the aim of safeguarding and promoting technological innovation and the competitiveness of the European economy on world markets. In this perspective, a key role is played by patents (private intellectual property rights), which grant companies the right of ownership and exclusive use for 17 to 20 years of the knowledge incorporated in medical products. Thus, thanks to more than 60,000 patents on life (and, in a similar quantity, in the field of artificial intelligence) all forms of life have fallen under the control of private “life lords”. 

It is not by chance that the European Health Union is also focused on prioritising the digitalisation of the economy. Digitalisation amplifies the processes of marketisation and privatisation of health. 

In this context, the health policy of the EU4HEALTH is caught in a constraining framework that prioritises growth and techno-economic power for the conquest of global markets and financial returns. This is the actual meaning of the multiple forms of struggles over patents and access to vaccines labelled as “vaccine nationalisms”. Health has been transformed into a field of “economic wars” and political rivalries even within the EU. Not to mention the exacerbation of conflicts between the US and China, the EU and China and, tomorrow, probably between the US and the EU. For the time being, the US considers any country that is not an ally/submissive country as a systemic enemy. For her part, the President of the European Commission stated a few days ago that China is a systemic enemy of Europe.

If you think about it, the patent-centric pharmaceutical strategy is contradictory and losing for Europe. It transfers real decision-making power in the field of health to the global patent-holding companies (about ten worldwide). Far from safeguarding the autonomy/independence of the EU, the “pharmaceutical strategy” has thrown the EU states into the arms of Big Pharma, which respond first and foremost to the needs of their markets and the interests of their investors. Let us recall the statements in this sense made by the CEO of Sanofi last May, to which French President Macron could only show irritation without effect!

Patents on life imprison States. They are the padlock to any public vision and policy on health and the most powerful means to prevent the dissemination of research and knowledge, as well as the accessibility of vaccines in justice and solidarity. The Covax system remains a structurally inadequate financial tool. It also retains the alleged legitimacy of the dominance of rich countries, which provide aid and assistance, over poor countries, which, moreover, must prove  their eligibility for aid! What a mystification when one considers that rich countries are also forcefully and stubbornly refusing the request of more than 100 “poor” countries mporarily suspend patent rules. What cynical hypocrisy!

Patents are the problem, not the solution. Mr. President, patents must be abolished without delay, also in the name of the fundamental values of justice and fraternity. Maintaining patents will be judged in the not too distant future as a crime against humanity, because health is a global public good.

  • The shrinking sovereignty of the people

The European Health Union does not seem to care much about the loss of sovereignty of the people in health policy.

In fact, where is the sovereignty of the people, of the European people in the field of health in terms of technological, economic, social and cultural policies?   European citizens have been mobilised since last November in favour of the European Citizens’ Initiative-ECI “Right2Cure”. We are one of the organisations actively participating in the ECI and are engaged in collecting the one million signatures needed for the Initiative proposals to be taken into account by the European Commission. However, in the light of what the European Health Union is today, there is a great risk that, if the ECI is successful, the Commission will reply that it is already committed within the EU4HEALTH to the necessary and indispensable measures to guarantee all Europeans access to health care! This is what happened to the ECI for the right to water and water as a common good, rendering “useless” the expressed will of more than one million citizens in favour of water as a human right and public good.

We ask, Mr. President, that the European Parliament take the measures at its disposal to prevent this unfortunate experience from being repeated on the subject of health.  The credibility of effective democracy within the Union, which has already been seriously undermined, is at stake.

  • The inter-governmental and international model of governance of the European Union.

In compliance with the EU treaties, which stipulate that, in the field of health, the primary competence lies with the States, the EU4HEALTH limits itself to talking about EU health policy in terms of promoting and improving the coordination of national policies with the aim of facilitating and increasing their effectiveness and results in the interests of all the Member States.  In practice, the EU4HEALTH excludes any attempt to move towards the implementation of a common European health policy. Yet, the worsening global health crisis is pushing strongly towards greater integration of policies and resources at European and global level to address challenges and problems that know no borders. By remaining confined to the clearly inadequate and conflicting inter-governmental and international framework, the European Health Union  will fuel division, fragmentation and conflict in the name of ‘me first’. It will be difficult to avoid a situation of permanent turbulence dictated by selfishness, hypocrisy and cynicism. Moreover, the EU  is already having great difficulty in maintaining its original commitment to “Leave no one behind” at the European and especially the global level. The trend towards inter-governmentalism of rival sovereignties, especially in such important human and social areas as health, within the framework of a globalised capitalist market economy, will eventually lead to the ‘political’ disappearance of the Europe-community.   The number of hundreds of millions of human beings who are already left behind around the world, also because of the measures adopted by the EU, will only increase. Avoidable? Yes, if we want it to be.

Mr. President,

Ladies and Gentlemen Presidents of the Parliamentary Groups, we thank you for the attention you will give to our letter.

Confident in the major role of the European Parliament in favour of the right to health for all, we ask you to accept the expression of our best and most respectful feelings.

The Agora of the Inhabitants of the Earth