The European Commission (Commission) has decided to register a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) entitled ‘Right to Cure’. The organisers of the ECI call upon the EU ‘to put public health before private profit [and] make anti-pandemic vaccines and treatments a global public good, freely accessible to everyone… [ensure] access to COVID-19 related diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines is not hampered by intellectual property rights and similar undue restrictions.’ Powerfully, The ECI states that in the 1990s, multinational drug companies used patents for HIV treatments in order to charge exorbitant prices for their products. Millions of lives were lost. The South African government, led by Nelson Mandela, overrode patents making use of compulsory licensing, and gave way to affordable and quality generic equivalents.
The ECI lists the following objectives:
- ensure that intellectual property rights, including patents, do not hamper the accessibility or availability of any future COVID-19 vaccine or treatment;
- ensure that EU legislation on data and market exclusivity does not limit the immediate effectiveness of compulsory licenses issued by Member States;
- introduce legal obligations for beneficiaries from EU funds to share COVID-19 health technology related knowledge, intellectual property and/or data in a technology or patent pool; and
- introduce legal obligations for beneficiaries from EU funds regarding transparency on public contributions, production costs, as well as accessibility and affordability clauses combined with non-exclusive licences.
The Commission considers that the ECI is legally admissible, as it meets the necessary conditions, and therefore decided to register it. The Commission has not analysed the substance of the ECI at this stage.
Following the registration of the ECI on the 21st August, the organisers can start, within the next 6 months, a 1-year process of collection of signatures of support. Should the ECI receive 1 million statements of support within 1 year from at least 7 different member states, the Commission will have to react within 6 months. The Commission could decide either to follow the request, or not, and in both instances would be required to explain its reasoning.
The European Citizens’ Initiative was introduced with the Lisbon Treaty as an agenda-setting tool in the hands of citizens. It was officially launched in April 2012. Once formally registered, a European Citizens’ Initiative allows for 1 million citizens from at least one quarter of EU member states to invite the Commission to propose a legal act in areas where the Commission has the power to act.
The conditions for admissibility are: (1) the proposed action does not manifestly fall outside the framework of the Commission’s powers to submit a proposal for a legal act; (2) it is not manifestly abusive, frivolous or vexatious; and (3) it is not manifestly contrary to the values of the Union. Since the beginning of the European Citizens’ Initiative, the Commission has registered in total 75 Citizens’ Initiatives and refused 26.