COVID-19 crisis: an opportunity for the EU to expand its competences in public health?

By Paola Gosio

As stated by Helmut Schmidt “the European Union lives of crises”. [1] Since its inception, the EU has undergone a series of emergencies of diverse nature that challenged its governance and furthered the debate on intergovernmentalism versus supranationalism. The Coronavirus outbreak arose in this context, which seems to represent the latest crossroads in front of which it will be possible to assess whether the European Union will be able to expand its competences, specifically in the public health sector, to be able to manage future crisis situations in this area.

The coronavirus pandemic was indeed first and foremost a health crisis. However, due to the subsidiarity principle reigning in the EU, the European institutions could not intervene in the public health matters of every Member State. This, because public health measures are primarily a Member State competence, and therefore the Union can only be called upon to perform an additional and/or auxiliary action, but without replacing EU Governments.

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