BRUSSELS — France, Germany and four other EU countries on Tuesday urged the European Union to take a greater role in preparing for any future pandemic, conceding that coronavirus responses had fallen short.
There should be a "common European approach" to such challenges in future, wrote France's Emmanuel Macron and Germany's Angela Merkel along with the leaders of Spain, Poland, Belgium and Denmark.
They addressed their letter and policy paper to European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, in the strongest attempt yet by the bloc's most powerful leaders to spur the EU executive to fix the disunity displayed during the crisis, especially in its earliest days.
As the global outbreak first took hold, member states privileged national responses by shutting borders, hoarding medical supplies and waving through major spending plans regardless of EU rules.
The letter put a special emphasis on the shortages of desperately needed medical supplies that were felt unevenly across the EU as the virus made its way across the continent.
"Understanding the shortcomings is essential," the leaders wrote.
"These include a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), medical devices, critical medicines, and vaccines."
The leaders also pressed Brussels to streamline data across the bloc so that rates of infection and other key figures matched from one country to the other.
They also urged the commission to provide a "strengthened mandate" for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, an EU agency.
Common procurement and better cooperation on maintaining critical stocks was another field the leaders urged the commission to study.
The leaders also called on Europe to work towards "diversifying supply lines", in a veiled call to stop EU countries from relying too heavily on China or India.
"This includes identifying new trading partners with the aim to decrease the dependency of EU countries on single suppliers," the paper said.
The 27 leaders of the European Union will be holding virtual talks on June 19 to discuss the fallout of the crisis.
UK passes 50,000 coronavirus-related deaths
The number of suspected and confirmed deaths from coronavirus in Britain has passed the grim milestone of 50,000, the government said on Tuesday.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma cited analysis from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which said 50,107 people had died in the outbreak.
The ONS assessed all deaths where COVID-19 was mentioned or suspected on the death certificate up to May 29.
Officially, the government only counts the deaths of those who had tested positive for COVID-19. That figure rose to 40,883 on Tuesday, up 286 on Monday.
On either measure, the toll is Europe's worst and the second highest in the world behind the United States, although each country has different reporting methods and lag times.
The ONS data also showed that deaths in England and Wales exceeded the average of the last five years by 57,961 in the 10-week period since the outbreak took hold in March.
Despite the figures, Sharma said infection and death rates are falling, and the UK lockdown, which has been in force since March, could be eased further.
Sharma said that all non-essential shops in England could re-open from June 15, as long as they comply with health and safety guidelines.
"This is the latest step in the careful restarting of our economy and will enable high streets up and down the country to spring back to life," said Sharma. — AFP