‘Let’s be guardians of an ethical dimension of politics’
ESU Video Conference
Our association is turning 25 years ‘old’! After much preparatory work, the establishment of the ESU was organised in Madrid on 7 November 1995. This year in November, we would celebrate the 25th anniversary of its foundation: “Madrid 1995-2020” on the initiative of ESU Vice-President Carmen Quintanilla. But 2020 was very different from what we hoped and expected…
The ESU has not stopped its activities in the past months. We have continued to follow the European political agenda and have expressed the concerns of senior citizens. We have emphasized their rights, values and desires for which Europe was created: peace, solidarity, democracy, human dignity… It was impressive to see that the senior citizens of the ESU and the seniors within our Member Associations remained connected while the pandemic invaded the whole of Europe… The reports on our website and in particular the resolution that we presented to the Political Assembly of the EPP (28.09.2020) are the result of our joint efforts.
What better way to honour all those who have committed themselves to the creation and development of our association than by looking ahead? By looking to the future and participating in society, by trying to improve the society in which we live? In order to look ahead and inspire all participants for further actions, we organised a video conference on 6th of November 2020 with a diverse programme of high-level speakers. Nearly 45 seniors attended our videoconference.
10:30-11:00 : Commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the ESU
Welcome An Hermans (ESU-president)
Introduction and greetings Antonio López–Istúriz (EPP Secretary General, MEP):
11.00-12:30 : ‘ Let’s be guardians of an ethical dimension of politics’ (quoted by Donald Tusk)
- Introduction : An Hermans
- Lecture by Prof Dr. Christiane Woopen (chair of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies, EGE): Lessons to be learned about older persons rights in emergency times
- Panel : moderated by Prof Dr. Steven van Hecke (Kuleuven) ; participating: Margareta Pålsson (Moderata Seniors), Federico Reho (WMCES), Heinz Becker (ÖSB, former MEP)
- Final comments : Prof. Dr. C. Woopen
- Conclusions : An Hermans
We happily share some of the highlights of our meeting:
- The preparation and quality of participation is very important in order to encourage senior citizens to take part in the meeting. The simultaneous interpretation was certainly a facilitation. The whole programme was an organic construction around the importance of ethics in political relations, inspired by the remarks of EPP president Donald Tusk during the Political Assembly (28 September 2020); Prof Woopen called it ‘a costly event (…) and the different perspectives fitted perfectly together’.
- In the first part of the programme we enjoyed listening to Mr Antonio Lopez-Isturiz White. Mr Lopez, as Secretary-General of the EPP and Member of the European Parliament, is for us a strong and direct link with the EPP. He proposed a number of challenges facing Europe and the EPP. We appreciate his assessment of the role of the ESU. He thanked the ESU for its contribution to the EPP over the years. “Europe can only survive if it involves its senior citizens and the ESU has always worked tirelessly to express their concerns. The EPP stands for intergenerational solidarity and respect for human dignity. We want our senior citizens to be more involved in the process of recovering from the pandemic in Europe and to help us implement the policies that provide security, well-being and quality of life for our citizens”, Lopez stated. Following this important and more general part relating to the anniversary of the ESU, President An Hermans expressed the association’s general hope that in the future we will have a joyful and festive celebration in which we can greet and embrace each other personally.
- We were honored to welcome Dr. Christiane Woopen from the University of Cologne. Christiane Woopen is a medical ethicist. She is Professor for Ethics and Theory of Medicine and Executive Director of CERES (Cologne Centre for Ethics, Rights, Economics, and Social Sciences of Health). She chairs the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE). EGE provides the European Commission with high quality, independent advice on ethical aspects of science and new technologies in relation to EU legislation or policies. During spring EGE presented a statement on ‘European Solidarity and the Protection of Fundamental Rights in the COVID-19 Pandemic’. Recently in November, EGE also published: ‘Improving pandemic preparedness and management – Lessons learned and ways forward’. We invited her to present her reflections on the political management of the recent health crisis and, in particular, on how society and policymakers looked at the senior citizens, health care for senior citizens and well-being in the Long-Time Care Facilities (LTCF). Prof. Dr. Woopen’s presentation was highly appreciated and further deepened by questions from our moderator Prof. Steven Van Hecke. Especially the multidisciplinary approach was remarkable. Both medical and psycho-social as well as economic and ethical aspects received attention. We therefore invite you to check out her PPT.
- After the presentation of Dr. Prof. Woopen, reactions, considerations and questions were addressed through the expert guidance of Prof. Steven Van Hecke. First of all by ESU Vice-President Heinz Becker & Mrs. Margareta Pålsson President of the Swedish Senior Association Moderata Seniorer. Other participants (from the Netherlands, Germany…) were also drawing attention to the suffering COVID-19 is causing in their country and are exploring appropriate treatment and political procedures to incorporate parliaments and civil society in decision making. The need for cooperation and solidarity also emerges. ‘In Europe we can only recover together’ President Ursula von der Leyen repeated several times. A question that concerns many citizens is: How can cooperation be optimised and how the EU will/can play a (leading) role?
- The answers to these questions were given by Federico Reho. He is Strategic Coordinator and Research Officer of the Martens Center and published a research paper concerning: ‘Does the EU have sufficient healthcare competences to cope with COVID-19?’. We invited him to sketch the contours of what the EU can do and what not, to cope with the unprecedented health challenges. We know that the EU has few competences with regard to health care, but it is certainly important in view of ‘the future of Europe’ to discuss the expectations of citizens or to propose a greater attention for health and long-time care within the framework of the European Semester – resulting in country-specific advices – and the further elaboration of the European Pillar of Social Rights (principle 16).
- The current pandemic and the need for cooperation have highlighted the need for a European health policy. Ursula von der Leyen recently mentioned ‘A European Health Union‘. But… even without drastic changes in policy principles or treaties, Europe can play a strengthening role in health policy. The EU’s role in fighting pandemics can be reinforced under the current treaties. Art 168(1) states: “the European Parliament and the Council, acting in accordance with the ordinary legislate procedure, may also adopt incentive measures to tackle common challenges, such as pandemics or the risk factors associated with chronic diseases”. COVID-19 seems the sort of “cross-border health scourge” which these provisions meant to help the EU manage. Uncoordinated “national” measures can cause significant damage. Close coordination of national reactions to a pandemic like COVID-19 has to be mandated such as a timely restriction of mobility and a temporary reintroduction of some border checks. A stronger coordination by means of a permanent and effective network of national health authorities, both scientific and political, working and deciding together, is needed.
After two hours of interesting speeches, interventions, discussions… ESU President An Hermans closed the meeting by thanking everyone and imagining the perspective of the near future.“With our knowledge and experience, we will continue to stress the importance of involving senior citizens in the development of measures and regulation that affect them; we want to be part of the political decision-making process to optimise the management of the current health crisis; as part of civil society, we are trying to help and support our fellow citizens and we hope that ‘together we will overcome this crisis’. Therefore the inspiration of scientists is a gift of which we are grateful to make use.”