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Merkel: EU ‘probably’ needs treaty changes, especially for health policy

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday she is open to making changes to the EU’s founding treaties, particularly in the area of health policy, and urged the bloc to find ways to make its foreign policy more efficient.

“I believe that Europe needs more competencies in the area of health. This will probably also require changes to the treaties,” Merkel said at an event organized by her center-right pan-EU political family, the European People’s Party, which discussed potential EU reforms that could also come up as part of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

“I have always been open to treaty changes if they make sense,” she continued, adding: “This is not an end in itself. And you can also do a lot of things through coordinating policy, at intergovernmental level, but it certainly makes sense to also have European competencies for certain situations, especially pandemics.”

Merkel said the World Health Organization had told the EU that it should not only see itself as a single market in economic terms but also when it comes to health policy. “Ideally, we should always have had a uniform European approach to lockdowns, shutdowns and other measures,” she said. “And that’s why I think it’s right that the president of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, says we need a health policy that is more strongly coordinated, at least for such supra-regional health hazards — be it at intergovernmental or at European level.”

The chancellor also reiterated previous calls for reforming EU treaties in the area of competition policy to facilitate the creation of so-called European champions that can compete with bigger rivals from China or the U.S.

Merkel said the EU could also reform the way it makes decisions on certain policies to make the process more efficient, such as by changing the threshold for approval from unanimity to a qualified majority.

She named foreign policy and tax law specifically, saying: “You have to think about what you could do.”

On foreign policy, Merkel said she “made proposals for a European Security Council made up of rotating member states, which can then always act much more quickly on an ad hoc basis, and that unanimity can also be abandoned on certain issues.” She cautioned, however, that “we certainly have to proceed with a sense of proportion.”

While Merkel lauded that the EU had shown strength on the international stage by agreeing on unified climate targets, she criticized that “we’re not giving off a good image” when it comes to vaccine diplomacy.

“When I see that some member states are using the Chinese or Russian vaccine without having approval from the European Medicines Agency, then I don’t think that’s so good,” she said, referring to countries like Hungary that individually procured vaccines from Beijing and Moscow without waiting for EU approval.

“If we do not speak with one voice, we will not be able to speak strongly,” Merkel said. “That is not how Europe achieves strength.”

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