European governments are working with the United States on plans to overhaul the World Health Organization, a top health official for a European country said, signalling that Europe shares some of the concerns that led Washington to say it would quit.
The European health official said Britain, France, Germany and Italy were discussing WHO reforms with the United States at the technical level. The aim, the official said, was to ensure WHO's independence, an apparent reference to allegations that the body was too close to China during its initial response to the coronavirus crisis early this year.
We are discussing ways to separate WHO's emergency management mechanism from any single country influence, said the official.
Reforms would involve changing the WHO's funding system to make it more long-term, the official said. The WHO now operates on a two-year budget, which could hurt WHO's independence if it has to raise funds from donor countries in the middle of an emergency, the official said.
US President Donald Trump has accused the WHO of being too close to China and announced plans to quit and withdraw funding.
European countries have occasionally called for reform of the WHO but have generally shielded the organization from the most intense criticism by Washington. In public the European position has usually been that any reform should come only after an evaluation of the response to the coronavirus crisis.
But minutes of a videoconference of EU health ministers last week suggested European countries were taking a stronger line and also seeking more European influence at the WHO in future. The German and French ministers told their colleagues an evaluation and reform of the WHO was needed, the minutes said.
That was stronger wording than in a resolution last month which the EU drafted and which was adopted by all 192 WHO member countries. That resolution called for an evaluation of the response to the coronavirus crisis, but it stopped short of calling for reforms.
The German and French ministers also told their colleagues ”The EU and its MS (member states) should play a bigger role at the global level, the minutes showed.
A spokesperson for the German health ministry said Berlin sought stronger engagement with the WHO ahead of Germany taking over the EU presidency on Jul 1.
A French health ministry spokesman also said the WHO would be on the agenda of Germany's presidency of the EU, and Paris would work on it with Berlin. France backed WHO reform but changes should follow the evaluation of the organization's handling of the COVID-19 crisis, he said.
A British government spokesperson said Britain worked with organizations including the WHO to encourage and support transparency, efficiency and good management”.