BRUSSELS/BERLIN – Germany’s health minister urged the World Health Organization (WHO) to speed up its review of how it has handled the coronavirus pandemic, apparently signalling Europe taking a tougher line on the United Nations body.
Berlin, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, has so far largely shielded the Geneva-based organization from the most intense criticism by Washington, which wants to leave the WHO because of its alleged excessive closeness to China.
But now Germany seems to be taking a more assertive position.
“When it comes to reappraising the work of the WHO during the crisis, I had the opportunity to talk to director general Tedros (Adhanom Ghebreyesus) on Tuesday in Paris as well as two weeks ago in Geneva, and in both conversations I encouraged him very clearly to launch this independent commission of experts and to expedite its launch,” Jens Spahn told a news conference in Berlin.
The WHO said last week it was setting up an independent panel to review its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the response by governments.
“The World Health Assembly resolution in May 2020 called for WHO to initiate such a panel and the panel has been set up to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19. This involves the global response, including but not limited to, WHO,” a spokesman for WHO said.
U.S. President Donald Trump has accused the WHO of being too close to China, where the coronavirus first emerged late last year, and not doing enough to question Beijing’s actions at the start of the crisis.
Tedros has dismissed the suggestions and said his agency kept the world informed.
Tedros has said the panel will provide an interim report to an annual meeting of health ministers in November and present a “substantive report” next May.
Spahn said the review was important now, while the pandemic is still raging across the world, because “we can already draw conclusions.”
This could lead to quick actions over the body’s governance and improvement of “cooperation between the political and the scientific level” of the organization, Spahn added.
EU governments have said the review should be followed by a reform of the organisation, a possibility already being discussed with the United States and other members of the G7 group of rich countries, officials have told Reuters.
One official had said the aim was to ensure the WHO’s independence.