What I’m reading – for HHRU

The Health and Human Rights Research Unit at Queen’s University Belfast has included me in their ‘What We’re Reading’ blog. Here’s what they say:

HHRU is delighted that its New Year’s recommended reads are from Professor Tamara Hervey, who is Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law at Sheffield University.

 Professor Hervey is an internationally-recognised expert on EU health law, with whom HHRU’s Dr Mark Flear and Prof Thérèse Murphy have worked closely in the past (eg, all three of us were part of the editorial team on European Law and New Health Technologies published by Oxford UP in 2013). Let’s hope the future brings more exciting opportunities for collaboration. 

 I have been working on a development of the final three chapters of Hervey & McHale’s European Health Law: Themes and Implications (CUP 2015) for a project with the Observatoire Social Europeen, which will result in a Research Handbook on EU Health Law for Edward Elgar’s research handbook series.  This part of Hervey & McHale (or “The Book”, as I prefer to think of it, since it took so long to write) is about the EU’s externally facing health law.  It investigates how, if at all, EU law affects or has the potential to affect global health.  So my reading is focused on two key areas of investigation: trade and human rights.  These are the two principal vectors by which EU health law reaches into global health law.  What I am discovering is that they interact in interesting ways.

On trade, the focus of my reading is on the new generation of trade agreements entered into by the EU.  Some of these have been in place for a while (the EU-South Korea Trade Agreement entered into force in 2011). Negotiations on the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement were completed in 2014, and the ratification process is under way in the EU and Canada.  But the agreement under negotiation that has received the most attention is the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP), so I have been reading de Ville and Siles-Brügge, The Truth about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (Polity 2016) and Cardoso et al,The Transatlantic Colossus: Global Contributions to Broaden the Debate on the EU-US Free Trade Agreement (Berlin Forum on Global Politics 2014).  I thought I didn’t know anything really about trade agreements, so it was a pleasant surprise that much of the content resonated with the history of the EU, its creation of a single market through mechanisms of deregulation, and the implications for democratic regulation.  The ‘economization of regulation’ isn’t a phrase I’ve read before per se, but its meaning was clear immediately to me.  The real surprise in de Ville and Siles-Brügge is that the final chapter is quietly optimistic about, or at least open to, the possibility of reconnecting values-based politics and global trade.  However, my observation on this is that the values that are being articulated are those about protecting health and health systems within the EU.  Important though that is, it does nothing for the massive disparities in health and resourcing of health systems when looked at globally.  Tackling those would involve reorganising global trade in a root-and-branch reform on a scale that is unlikely, given the powerful vested interests in the current direction of travel.

On human rights, I’ve dipped into Biehl and Petryna’s When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health (Princeton UP 2013) and read Zuniga, Marks and Gostin’s Advancing the Human Right to Health (OUP 2013).  While there isn’t much in the latter that I haven’t read already in some form or another, many of the ideas are taken further than I have seen them taken before.  This is particularly true of Joia S Mukherjee’s chapter ‘Financing governments: towards achieving the right to health’.  The chapter tackles head-on the notion that states are ‘sovereign’ in a world where trade is global and is conducted on the terms dictated by the IMF and World Bank, as well as those of the WTO.  Its author calls for civil society action to assert the ‘right to health’, such as that seen in the AIDS movement and the movement for debt relief.  My reflections on this approach include that conceiving of human rights in that way veers more closely to charity than to the revised approach to geo-economics implied by the root-and-branch reform to global trade law that it would take to tackle global health disparities.

In more general reading, I’m slowly working my way through Atkinson’s Inequality: What Can Be Done? (Harvard UP 2015).  This is heavy-going for me, as it’s economics!  But if lawyers are going to understand how law might be used as one means of tackling inequality, we need to understand at least something about how inequality is understood in other disciplines.  Also in general self-education, I’ve been trying to understand more about contemporary geo-politics, and in particular Daesh, by reading things like this.

Finally, on a more frivolous level, an overnight flight from the US, after visiting the health law folks at Robert H McKinney Law School, Indiana, saw me consume Lisa McElroy’s Called On, a light-hearted novel about US law schools.

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