Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the official launch of the European Medical Corps

15.02.2016 - Speech

Commissioner Stylianides, my dear friend Christos,
My dear friend Jean-Marc,
Director‑General Chan,
Distinguished colleagues,

I’m delighted to be here today on a good, on a very special occasion.

When the Foreign Ministers of the EU member states came together not so long ago, in October 2014, we found ourselves in the midst of the most difficult global health crisis in recent history.

Thousands of people had been infected with the Ebola virus in western Africa. In Europe and in the US, too, the first cases had been reported.

We reacted, but we had to admit that we were too late. Too late at least for the more than 11,000 men, women and children who have fallen victim to this scourge.

One thing was clear to all of us: we cannot allow another health crisis to find us as underprepared. We cannot bring the victims back to life. However, we can prevent such a disaster from recurring because it takes us months to act.

The Ebola crisis highlighted how important it is to be prepared, to maintain the the right capacities and to act quickly and in collaboration with each other.

National measures alone are not enough. Rather, we’ve learned that we can only really be effective in a serious crisis situation if we use our instruments systematically and cooperate.

For that we need coordination. We need joint engagement.

That’s why my then French counterpart and I proposed the establishment of a European unit with specific medical expertise. We called them White Helmets back then: a pool of medical and logistical experts who undertake preparations, form a network and are ready at any time to counter dangerous epidemics at an early stage with a view to nipping them in the bud and saving lives.

I’m very pleased that this idea has now been put into practice in the form of the European Medical Corps. I’d like to thank everyone involved in this.

The European Medical Corps is an instrument which pools our capabilities so that we can react to epidemics in a coordinated manner – quickly and effectively.

Germany is mainly contributing in three spheres:

– The German Red Cross is establishing an isolation hospital to treat highly infectious patients.

– The Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine is providing a mobile laboratory in which highly infectious pathogens can be identified on the ground.

– The Federal Agency for Technical Relief is providing support in the technical and logistical sphere. It makes it possible to quickly construct camps and ensures, for example, that there is electricity and a water supply.

Our European initiative is embedded in the WHO’s crisis response mechanisms, especially the Global Health Emergency Workforce. We want to strengthen the WHO as the central and coordinating institution in health crises.

Together we are effective. I’m therefore pleased that France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Czech Republic are all contributing to the European pool. I call on other member states to also offer their expertise to this key instrument.

The European Medical Corps signals solidarity within the EU. However, it’s also an expression of our shared political responsibility in the world.

To me, It also shows something else: it underscores the EU’s effectiveness, especially in complex crisis situations. It shows that we’re able to continuously adapt and improve our instruments in order to be able to act on a global scale. That inspires hope.

Thank you very much.

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