Towards a European Health Union: Time to Level Up

European Journal of Risk Regulation, Issue 4, 2020

HEC Paris Research Paper No. LAW-2020-1408

13 Pages Posted: 1 Dec 2020 Last revised: 3 Dec 2020

Date Written: November 30, 2020


The European response to COVID-19 has revealed an inconvenient truth. Despite having integrated public health concerns across all its policies – be it agriculture, consumer protection, or security –, the Union cannot directly act to save people’s lives. Only member states can do so. Yet when they adopted unilateral measures to counter the spread of the virus, those proved not only ineffective but also disruptive on vital supply chains, by ultimately preventing the flow of essential goods and people across the Union. These fragmented efforts in tackling cross-border health threats have almost immediately prompted political calls for the urgent creation of a European Health Union. Yet this call raises more questions than answers. With the aim to offer a rigorous and timely blueprint to decision-makers and the public at large, this Special Issue of the European Journal of Risk Regulation contextualizes such a new political project within the broader constitutional and institutional framework of EU public health law and policy. By introducing the Special, this paper argues that unless the envisaged Health Union will tackle the root causes of what prevented the Union from effectively responding to COVID-19 – the divergent health capacity across the Union –, it might fall short of its declared objective of strengthening the EU’resilience for cross-border health threats.

Keywords: Health law, EU health, European Union, Risk Regulation, EU law, COVID-19, Coronavirus, Suppression, Precautionary principle, Cost-benefit analysis, Emergency Regulation, Worst-case scenarios, Risk vs risk, tradeoffs

JEL Classification: K3, K32, K33

Suggested Citation

Alemanno, Alberto, Towards a European Health Union: Time to Level Up (November 30, 2020). European Journal of Risk Regulation, Issue 4, 2020, HEC Paris Research Paper No. LAW-2020-1408, Available at SSRN: or

Alberto Alemanno (Contact Author)

HEC Paris ( email )

1 Rue de la libération


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