Learning the lessons from the COVID-19 crisis remains a top priority not least because COVID-19 is still around mutating as these lines are being written.
These lessons are connected with a number issues/categories: preparedness, stockpiling, rapid and flexible procurement response regarding the required critical supplies, timely knowledge/awareness of global supply chain challenges to name but a few.
Focusing only on these issues/categories in isolation runs the risk of providing a partial and ultimately misleading image leading to incomplete conclusions or even to the wrong lessons.
Instead, the analysis must look for the lessons from all these angles and treat them as an interconnected whole. This is why the experience from the EU’s response during the first stages of the pandemic is of such importance. It provides useful insights in almost all of these areas in a connected way.
I attempted to identify and put together the lessons from the EU’s response in the chapter: Aris Georgopoulos “The EU’s Joint Procurement Agreement in the Light of COVID-19: Learning the Correct Lessons from the Pandemic and Identifying Actions for Improvement” in the edited collection Public Procurement Regulation in (a) Crisis? Global Lessons from the Covid -19 Pandemic (Sue Arrowsmith, Luke RA Butler, Annamaria La Chimia, Christopher Yukins eds.), Hart Publishing, 2021, pp. 175-196. The chapter is available to read here .
The chapter examines the performance of the Joint Procurement Agreement framework and of the related and complementary mechanisms, namely the rescEU stockpile of medical countermeasures, the EU’s Emergency Support Instrument and the Clearing House of Medical Equipment during the first phase of the pandemic.
In the chapter I argue that the evaluation of the EU response needs to bear in mind two elements.
Firstly, it has to take into account the inherent limits that the EU has in healthcare as in this area it is Member States that still have the main bulk of the responsibility and competences.
Secondly, especially regarding the examination of the Joint Procurement Agreement of Critical medical supplies, it should be borne in mind that Joint/Collaborative Procurement by its very nature is more complex than procurement carried out in a decentralised way.
With these points in mind, I argue that the value added from Joint Procurement is that at time where there are abrupt spikes in the demand of critical medical supplies it provides a more stable model that can provide, if administered properly, the relevant critical supplies to all the participating countries irrespective of their size and negotiating/buying clout.
I further argue that the performance of the EU Joint procurement is assessed positively overall considering the counterfactual of separate un-coordinated procurements processes during the same period. The most important contribution of the joint procurement effort was that it provided a counterintuitive narrative of cooperation at a time where political instincts and pressures would veer towards national isolation. This narrative is of fundamental importance for tackling effectively future outbreaks not only in the field of Healthcare Procurement.
“The most important contribution of the joint procurement effort was that it provided a counterintuitive narrative of cooperation at a time where political instincts and pressures would veer towards national isolation.”
Moreover, although there is scope for improvement the resilience and effectiveness of the EU system, these improvements do not require a fundamental change in the allocation of competences between the EU and its Member States in the area of healthcare. Instead, the emphasis should be given on efficiency multipliers that exist within the existing framework. Finally, the chapter suggests that the proposal for making the participation of Member States in the Joint Procurement exclusive -at the time of Covid19 response Member States were free to carry parallel procurements for critical medical supplies even when they participate in a Joint procurement of the same medical supplies- might prove counterproductive and undermine rather than strengthen the EU’s Joint Procurement framework.
The lessons from the EU Joint’s Procurement are also important for the NHS and the UK policy regarding the country’s participation in the European framework of crisis preparedness as indicated in “What happened to our national emergency stockpiles?” BMJ 2021;375:n2849 (available here ).
“The lessons from the EU Joint’s Procurement are also important for the NHS and the UK policy regarding the country’s participation in the European framework of crisis preparedness”
Finally, it is important to note that the lessons from the EU Joint Procurement COVID-19 experience are not only relevant for improving preparedness for the next Health crisis but for other types of crises such as natural or man made disasters. The War in Ukraine and the fast depletion of European defence materiel stockpiles is a potent current example. More on this in a forthcoming piece.
Comments and feedback always welcome!
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