EU summit: how much social should it be?

The debate about the revocation of patent protection for corona vaccinations is superimposed on an old dispute among the heads of government: Should the EU move towards social union? Chancellor Kurz says: No.

For some it is a terrible vision – for others it is an indispensable goal: an EU that is not only an economic and commercial superpower, but is also developing in the direction of a social union. That would mean: More decision-making power for Brussels in the area of ​​health, labor and social policy.

However, this is currently largely in the hands of the national governments. And it should stay that way – that was one of the messages that Chancellor Sebastian Kurz brought with him to the social summit in the Portuguese coastal city of Porto on Friday. Ten other European heads of government are pulling in the same direction with him on this issue. The other message from the Chancellor: He was “extremely optimistic” that more people in Austria will find a job again. “The basis for a strong welfare state, for secure jobs and a successful location is victory over the pandemic,” said Kurz. “We want to get over 500,000 people back into employment within a year.”


“Extremely optimistic” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Minister of Labor Martin Kocher at the EU Social Summit in Porto

And the Chancellor sees a real “turbo for work and employment in Austria” in the “Green Pass”. In Austria it should be available from May 19, in the entire EU it is not expected before the end of June. “This passport has to come at a European level too,” insists Kurz, “so that we can restore the freedom to travel.”

Not only EU heads of state and government came to the first real major meeting in months, but also social partners, trade unions and NGOs. The hope for an agreement in the direction of a coordinated, common EU social policy was zero from the start.

Action plan

Only one action plan was agreed in Porto: within ten years the shockingly high number of people at risk of poverty in the EU – 91 million – is to be reduced by 15 million. In addition, 78 percent of citizens should have a job by then; 60 percent should take part in further training every year in order to meet the increasing demands of professional life.

It remained open, however, which concrete steps should be taken to achieve this goal. Brussels can have a say in social issues, but decisions are made in the capitals. Nevertheless, the EU Commission is putting pressure on: “It is time to mend our social structure, which has been damaged by the Corona crisis,” said EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

The EU has had a tough year. But now comes the important step of recovery. The agreed package with 750 billion euros in corona aid will support this. “We have to make sure that the social aspect is an absolute priority,” she said.


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But another controversial issue sparked in between – namely, whether corona vaccination patents should be temporarily released. Then manufacturers all over the world could produce the vaccine without having to pay expensive license fees to the developers. US President Joe Biden had proposed this to the surprise of all European politicians.

Shock moment

After a moment of shock, it was vague on the part of Brussels that they were open to discussions. Chancellor Kurz stands behind the authority. “We support Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and are open to talks and the WTO process that the Americans are proposing. It is important that as many people as possible around the world are vaccinated as quickly as possible to defeat the pandemic. “

A resounding yes came from Poland, a more restrained one from Italy and France. But French President Macron also demanded: The US should finally lift its export ban on vaccines. Then there would also be more vaccines available worldwide. He also asked: “What is the problem at the moment? It’s not really about intellectual property. Can you leave intellectual property to laboratories that don’t know how to produce and that won’t produce tomorrow? ”He said skeptically.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel – who was connected to the summit via video – brakes openly and massively. It has the powerful German pharmaceutical industry behind it, which is categorically resisting a weakening of patent protection.

Nothing happens quickly on this issue anyway: in order for the World Trade Organization (WTO) to be able to decide whether to revoke the patents, it first needs the EU’s yes. To do this, however, the EU states first have to agree on a line. That this would happen on the evening of the social summit was considered unlikely.


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