Introductory remarks by Ambassador Christoph Heusgen at the UN General Assembly Special Session Side Event on the Team Europe Response to COVID-19, December 9

10.12.2020 - Speech

Check Against Delivery

We are almost at the end of the German presidency of the European Council, which actually is at the same time the end of our membership in the UN Security Council. It is very clear that both for our EU presidency, but also for our membership in the Security Council, the COVID-19 pandemic had the most impact on all of us. It is the biggest test for our generation and it is a very serious challenge to our multilateral system. The EU Ambassador already mentioned the UN General Assembly special session last week. This was a clear reminder to all of us that multilateral approaches are the only solution to overcoming this crisis and the call for an international cooperation was very strong, although we have to admit not shared by everybody. Overall, the UNGA special session confirmed: multilateralism is the key to success, it works, but it has to be supported globally.

I think we can proudly say that from the beginning of the pandemic that multilateral cooperation has proven its value. Acting as a Team Europe, the European Union, its institutions, its member states have assumed responsibility as a strong and solidarity partner during our EU presidency. We have been determined to pursue this leadership with strong solidarity, both at home in Europe and through strengthening the multilateral system. From supporting efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19 and helping partner countries to strengthen health care, water and sanitation systems, to ensuring a fair global distribution of vaccine as global public good, and to strengthening the global health structure, the EU and its member states stand at the core of relevant multilateral efforts.

I am looking forward to today's exchange. There has never been a stronger need to work together in the world and globally as a team. The action and solutions we implement today must also help to build back better. Team Europe promotes an equitable, sustainable and inclusive recovery. Acting together now, we can emerge stronger tomorrow.


Keynote speech by State Secretary Antje Leendertse at the UN General Assembly Special Session Side Event on the Team Europe Response to COVID-19, December 9

Check against delivery

I thank the EU delegation in New York and all contributors for organizing this event, which is timely and also well advised to do it in the margins of the special session of the United Nations General Assembly last week with the participation of many heads of states and governments, including the Federal Chancellor.

Excellencies, colleagues, Ambassador Skoog [Head of the EU delegation to the UN] said it: we are all in this together and COVID-19 affects us all. So it is obvious that this global and multilayered crisis can only be overcome by joining our efforts regionally, as in Team Europe, and globally, as an outreach by Team Europe. The EU and its member states are strongly committed to multilateralism. International cooperation, responsibility and solidarity are guiding the EU global response to COVID-19.

When taking over the presidency of the European Council in July, Germany placed crisis management and sustainable recovery from the heavy socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic at the center of its agenda and the EU and its member states acting together as a Team Europe are taking comprehensive and decisive action to tackle the destructive impact of COVID-19. The measures aim at mitigating the multifaceted, urgent health, social, economic, humanitarian, security and political impact of the COVID-19 pandemic while upholding human rights, democracy, good governance and the rule of law. With the latter part, I, of course, echo the words of the Secretary General of the United Nations.

As a whole, I think that this crisis showed that implementing the SDGs and not only SDG 3, is really also crucial in overcoming the crisis. Since its launch in early April, Team Europe has mobilized almost 39 billion euros to address the effects of the COVID-19 crisis in partner countries and regions. I very much look forward to seeing some concrete project examples later on. The idea of international solidarity is also at the heart of European vaccine policy. No one is safe until everybody is safe.

Recent advances by the BioNTech and Pfizer partners, as well as many others, give us hope, of course, that now the vaccines will change the situation and could indeed be available soon. But this is only a first step, having an effective vaccine. The fair global distribution as a global public good will be crucial. The EU and its member states stand at the core of relevant multilateral efforts. The access to COVID-19 tools Accelerator, or shortly abbreviated ACT-A, and its vaccine distribution pillar COVAX will enable many countries to coordinate and enable vaccine procurement either for themselves or by providing vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.

EU member states have committed themselves to ACT-A and work together with the European Commission within the initiative. Europe is the biggest donor within ACT-A, shaping a fair vaccine policy has been an unprecedented exercise and the EU has been co-leading it. I am very happy to have Bruce Aylward with us today to share more insights on ACT-A during the panel discussion. While the fight against COVID-19 is not free from strong national instincts, everybody around the globe is a witness to this, we hope to see more and more countries concluding that only multilateral cooperation in the end will enable us to overcome it. I hope that we will see powers such as the United States and China fully embracing this approach and their responsibility. Amid these pressing tasks, we must not lose sight the need to strengthen overall the health systems (SDG3) especially in developing countries. Team Europe is committed to improving global health architecture beyond the immediate crisis response, making it more resilient to future health risks. The WHO is the leading and coordinating authority for global health within the multilateral system. But the pandemic has shown us quite plainly that member states expectations of WHO exceed its capacities that have been provided by the member states of WHO – legal, personnel and financial – by far.

The EU is a firm supporter of the WHO reform processes. During our presidency, we have advocated for the EU to take a leadership role in global health. The EU has already done so at the World Health Assembly in May 2020, initiating and negotiating the WHO resolution on the COVID-19 response. We have made concrete proposals on how to strengthen the resilience of national health systems. I will name a few: the adaptation of the international health regulations; the implementation of periodic review mechanisms; establishing a traffic light system for health crises; and anchoring the One Health approach at global level. We are particularly pleased in this regard that the EU-led discussions in Geneva on strengthening WHO are beginning to bear fruit.

We believe this is the moment to join our efforts to strengthen WHO structurally and financially so it can fulfill its global health mandate. In the future, WHO needs to be better prepared. We said this after the Ebola crisis and we made a step forward. I think this is a unique chance to show that cooperation trumps isolated national action and to go out of this crisis again, better prepared for the next. The EU is fully committed to its multilateral responsibility when we succeed, which I am sure we will, have the clearest evidence and testimony that multilateralism is the only meaningful way to get through these difficult times and to build a future that “leaves no one behind” – the SDG quotation that should never be missed.

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