Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

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On 10 February 2022, the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union brought together the 27 European ministers responsible for health as well as their EFTA counterparts in Grenoble to discuss the future of health in the European Union. The ministers reviewed the current situation regarding European cooperation in health, identified possible courses of action for enhanced cooperation in public health and discussed the relevance of building a Public Health Union at EU level.

Over the last two years, the Member States have demonstrated how, faced with a public health crisis of unprecedented magnitude, they are able to act quickly and in a coordinated manner both among themselves and with the EU institutions to respond to a crisis such as this one. They showed solidarity and implemented an appropriate European framework to urgently support research, development, production, access and efficient distribution of health products as well as safe and effective vaccines.

Nevertheless, the crisis also brought to light profound inequalities between Member States, which in some cases were the cause of losses, where health is concerned, for citizens in Europe as is the case elsewhere in the world. It also highlighted citizens’ desire to see the protection of their health being placed at the heart of EU policy on a more egalitarian basis.

Several initiatives led by previous presidencies have contributed to laying the foundations for enhanced EU action in public health, while respecting national competence in the matter. Thanks also to the mobilisation of the European Parliament, the Union also recently acquired a new health programme, EU4Health 2021-2027, with considerably enhanced financial backing.

However, is this European Health Union of sufficient dimensions to meet the shared challenges that we must face, such as an ageing population, climate disruption or growing public health insecurity?

Over the course of their discussions, the European health ministers identified several areas of convergence.

Firstly, while already subject to intervention by the European Union, non-communicable diseases such as rare diseases, cancer, rare chronic illnesses, the fight against antimicrobial resistance and mental health could be better tackled with stronger cooperation between the Member States and further intervention at EU level.

What’s more, the ministers agreed on the need to better take account of the impact that other EU policies have on the health of their fellow EU citizens and to ensure these policies do not have adverse effects on health.

As part of our presidency, I decided to include on the agenda of this informal ministerial meeting, a discussion on the role of public health at EU level, beyond simply the matter of health security and the immediate emergency of the COVID-19 crisis. These discussions have shown the Member States’ broad support of better taking into account citizens’ health expectations. We must ensure that their health and well-being can again be placed at the heart of EU policies, from drafting to implementation. We must strengthen our coordination and cooperation, and we must continue to work towards a European Public Health Union, in particular by identifying the areas in health in which European action can bring an objective and tangible added value for European citizens, while respecting the current distribution of competences.

— Olivier Véran, Minister for Solidarity and Health

— Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety

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