Summary: Discussing the emergence of the EU in the field of vaccination using a reputational approach, with Dr Thibaud Deruelle

EUhealthgov |

On Wednesday 27 April 2022 EUHealthGov hosted the fourth event in its quarterly seminar series. We were delighted to be joined by Dr Thibaud Deruelle (University of Lausanne) to discuss the EU’s role in vaccine policy, and how a reputational approach can help to explain the growing relevance and involvement of the EU in this field. 

Dr Deruelle introduced the theoretical approach taken in his work. A reputation is a set of beliefs that observers hold, or judgments that observers make, about an individual or an organisation. A strong reputation can enable an actor to have influence in the absence of coercive power; for instance, it can enable the EU, in the absence of a formal mandate, to have influence in the field of vaccine policy. 

The EU has engaged in reputation-building activities – developing scientific networks, building functions within the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), supporting the adoption of Council conclusions – to strengthen its reputation, particularly in the aftermath of the H1N1 outbreak. Dr Deruelle explained how these activities put the EU in a strong position in January 2020, when COVID-19 emerged. He outlined the role played by the Commission and the ECDC, in particular, in the early weeks and months of the crisis, as well as the institutionalisation of some of these roles in the subsequent European Health Union initiatives. Addressing the particular issue of vaccine procurement, Dr Deruelle noted the potential for reputational risk, and the possibility of ‘backlash’ from member states which might have undermined further strengthening of the EU’s influence. 

The Q&A explored the wider value of a reputational approach for understanding the EU’s evolving role in health policy, touching on its value in explaining the gradual integration of public health, alongside theories of neofunctionalism and networked governance. Dr Deruelle ended by discussing the potential for the EU’s strengthened reputation in vaccine policy to support the formal expansion of competence, via treaty change. 

A recording of the event will shortly be available via the EUHealthGov website.