Health Highlights

News from the European Parliament - October 2016

EP hearing on mHealth Framework for Europe

The European Parliament committees ITRE (research) and ENVI (environment and health) organised a public hearing on mHealth. The number of health and wellness apps more than doubled from 2013 to 2015 and according to some estimates there are more than 165 thousand health and wellness apps now available on the leading platforms. Some of the presenters included Digital Medicine at Adamed Group, the E-services and Innovation department under the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs, as well as Digital Europe and research from UCL London. Issues concerning language barriers were raised as the patients are not communicated to in Latin. Data protection was also considered a pressing issues, as well as and the need for trust among European citizens. It was also debated whether mHealth would increase or decrease health inequalities, to which presenters maintained that the tendency would be to support health equalities.

To view EuroHealthNet’s response to the EC Green paper on mHealth, please click here.

For further information, please contact Cathrine Festersen (c.festersen@eurohealthnet.eu).

Draft report on equality between men and women

The European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM) has published the draft report "Equality between women and men in the European Union in 2014-2015”.

Among other findings, the report highlights the greater impact of climate change on women rather than men, “with women more likely to bear the greater burden in situations of poverty, and reiterates the need to adopt a gender perspective in designing, planning and implementing climate policy and in the development of gender-responsive climate action”. Furthermore, the document urges the EU Member States to “to prevent and respond to all types of violence against women and to put in place further prevention strategies”.

To access the full report, please click here.

Draft opinion, Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive

The European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) has published a Draft Opinion concerning the proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2004/37/EC on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work. This will form the basis of negotiations with the Commission and Council (for further information on this topic, see the article in the "Main News" section of this newsletter).

To access the document, please click here.

Opinion on the EU Semester

The European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) has published an Opinion on the European Semester for economic policy coordination: implementation of 2016 priorities.

To access this document, please click here.

EU commitments on global nutrition and food security

The European Parliament’s Committee on Development (DEVE) has made available its “Motion for resolution on the next steps towards attaining global goals and EU commitments on nutrition and food security in the world”.  

In the document, the DEVE Committee calls the other EU institutions, as well as the international community and the governments of developing countries, “to mobilise, forthwith, long-term financial investments for food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture, and to enhance food security and nutrition through improved governance and accountability and systemic policies on food and nutrition, which are rights-based and take into account, on the one hand, the gender dimension, sustainable agriculture, natural resource use and access, public water, public sanitation and hygiene, and, on the other, the creation and expansion of inclusive, entitlement-based social safety nets, in particular targeting the most vulnerable and marginal groups”.

To read the full Motion, please click here.

Question to the Commission by Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D) on the follow-up on investing in children

Late last year (7 December 2015), a majority of MEPs supported a written declaration on investing in children. It encourages the Commission to consider incorporating a specific and binding indicator on the number of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the social dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union. Furthermore, the written declaration also urges the Commission to request that all Member States introduce specific national (sub-)targets for reducing child poverty and social exclusion, with a view to contributing to the Europe 2020 poverty reduction target.

Has the Commission already discussed the written declaration on investing in children, which was adopted by a majority of MEPs? When does the Commission intend to act on the requests set out in Parliament's written declaration?

Answer given by Ms Thyssen on behalf of the Commission

The Commission would like to refer the Honourable Member to an earlier response it has prepared to the own initiative report of MEP Inez Zuber on" Reducing inequalities with a special focus on child poverty". The issues and requests put forward in this report correspond to the questions posed in the Written Declaration. The Commission's position has remained the same since then. Concretely, on the issue incorporating a specific and binding indicator on the number of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the social dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union, it is worth to note that the 2013 Commission Recommendation Investing in Children (IiC) contains an annex with a long list of established indicators on child poverty and well-being. Although the IiC recommendation was unanimously accepted by the Council back in 2013, Member States (MS) have not been in favour of setting up a Europe 2020 country specific sub-target for reducing child poverty and social exclusion. However, the Commission has used the IiC recommendation as a lever in its discussions with the Member States in the framework of the European Semester and the negotiations of the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) operational programmes.

For more information see http://www.europarl.europa.eu/plenary/fr/texts-adopted.html  ( Inês ZUBER - A8-0310/2015 / P8_TA-PROV(2015)0401) (1).  

1 http://www.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/popups/ficheprocedure.do?reference=2014/2237(INI)&l=en#tab-0

Question to the Commission by Maria Grapini (S&D) on Measures for reversing European demographic decline

Population ageing is one of the most significant social and economic challenges which affects all the Member States. According to a study by the European Commission, by 2025, over 20% of the population of Europe will be at least 65 years old and the number of those above 80 will increase considerably. In this context, the stress on pension and healthcare systems might increase substantially, and young people in Europe will have to work for a longer period and will have to be more efficient and more productive to pay for the healthcare and pensions of older Europeans (older Europeans in turn will have to postpone retirement until the age of around 70). This demographic challenge is more obvious in some countries than in others. The population of some EU countries is decreasing even when migration is taken into account. Unless the current trends change, the forecast is that Europe will be the only continent whose population will decrease by 2050.

What measures does the Commission plan to reverse the demographic decline? Could immigration compensate for the low birth rate in the EU?

Answer given by Ms Thyssen on behalf of the Commission

The Commission is fully aware of the challenges linked to demographic change. Policies related to the challenge of demographic change are primarily a responsibility of Member States, while the Commission offers policy guidance and supports actions at Member State level. It has provided evidence that in general migration of third-country nationals to the EU alone cannot reverse the demographic trend but can help ease the pressure. In this respect, well-functioning legal migration channels for third-country nationals and effective migrant integration, including through guidance and training, are key. Moreover, recognition of qualifications and removal of obstacles such as discrimination are vital in helping them capitalise on their existing skills1.

Within the European Semester, the Commission is monitoring national policies and proposing country specific recommendations to Member States in various areas that have an impact on demographic challenges, such as skills and education, childcare, youth employment, migrant integration, pension sustainability and adequacy, provision of long-term care, active participation in work and society, and social inclusion. EU financing instruments2 help Member States address the challenges they are facing, such as demographic decline, via measures supporting education, lifelong learning employment and social inclusion (including of migrants). Other relevant EU initiatives include the Commission Action Plan on the Integration of third-country nationals and revised Blue Card scheme for highly skilled migrants3 as well as the European Fund for Strategic Investments4 and Social Investment Package5 aimed at increasing productivity growth through investment in physical and human capital.

1 Employment and Social Developments in Europe Review (ESDE 2015), "Mobility and Migration in the EU: Opportunities and Challenges", http://ec.europa.eu/social/BlobServlet?docId=14954&langId=en ; The forthcoming ESDE 2016 focusses on refugees in particular.

2 These financing instruments include the European Social Fund (ESF), European Regional Development Fund and the Employment and Social Innovation programme. For more information on the ESF financed projects helping to tackle demographic challenges by improving productivity through better skills, education, childcare and social inclusion of migrants and other vulnerable groups, see http://ec.europa.eu/esf/main.jsp?catId=46&langId=en

3 http://ec.europa.eu/priorities/jobs-growth-and-investment/towards-circular-economy_en

4 http://ec.europa.eu/priorities/jobs-growth-and-investment/investment-plan_en

5 http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?langId=en&catId=1044&newsId=1807&furtherNews=yes

Question to the Commission by Brian Hayes (PPE) on EU action to support bereaved parents

The death of a child impacts every aspect of the lives of his or her parents: health, relationships, employment and social inclusion. Each year in the EU, around 125 000 babies and children under 20 die, leaving a quarter of a million parents bereaved of a child each year. Many more are bereaved of an adult son or daughter. A child's death has been defined medically as a 'catastrophic stressor'. Studies have shown that the impact of this loss is more intense and longer-lasting than for any other bereavement. The high costs to individuals, families and society are shown by links to higher levels of depression, anxiety, illness, absence from work, premature death, relationship breakdown, the capacity to parent surviving children, and stress levels.

In the light of the above, what action is the Commission taking to:

1 improve the evidence base on the impact of the death of a child on family life and on parents' mental and physical health and employment, and identify and promote evidence-based interventions to support bereaved parents?

2 support Member States in developing appropriate welfare policies and employment practices that meet bereaved parents' needs and tackle their social exclusion?

3 encourage and enable networking across research, policy and practice with a view to improving outcomes for bereaved parents?

 Answer given by Mr Andriukaitis on behalf of the Commission

The European Commission has been addressing mental health issues for more than a decade(1) . Recently the European Framework for Mental Health and Wellbeing(2) was established in cooperation with Member States. This framework identifies areas where further action is needed, in particular as regards depression, suicide and e-Health, community based approaches, mental health at workplaces and schools and mental health in all policies(3).  With a view to supporting Member States in their policies related to mental health, the findings and recommendations of the European Framework for Mental Health and Well-being will be disseminated and discussed with representatives of Member States in a dedicated governmental expert group and with the help of the EU Compass, a mechanism established by the Commission to collect, exchange and analyse information on policy and stakeholder activities in mental health.

There is no initiative to analyse the impact of the death of a child on family life and on parents' mental and physical health and employment. However, aspects such as preventing depression and promoting resilience, better access to mental health services, providing community-based mental health services, preventing suicide, mental health at work and in schools are covered by EU action.  Through the 7th Framework Programme for Research(4) 2007-2013, the Commission has invested over EUR 125 million in 69 research projects on depression, anxiety and suicide prevention(5).  Research efforts have been reinforced under Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020)(6) with so far EUR 51 million invested in 25 projects. Further opportunities to support research on mental health will be possible(7) in the future.

1 http://ec.europa.eu/health/mental_health/policy/index_en.htm

2 http://www.mentalhealthandwellbeing.eu/assets/docs/publications/Framework%20for%20action_19jan% 20%281%29-20160119192639.pdf

3 http://www.mentalhealthandwellbeing.eu/

4 https://ec.europa.eu/research/fp7/index_en.cfm

5 E-COMPARED, http://www.e-compared.eu; ICT4DEPRESSION, http://www.ict4depression.eu; OPTIMI, http://www.optimiproject.eu/; OSPI-Europe, http://cordis.europa.eu/project/rcn/90959_en.html

6 https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/

7 http://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/h2020-section/health-demographic-change-and-wellbeing

Question to the Commission by Enrico Gasbarra (S&D) on ESF funding

The European Social Fund uses its EUR 86 billion in resources to tackle challenges of the utmost importance for EU cohesion and sustainability. ESF activities generally need to be more attractive to beneficiaries with regard to investment, including the nature of the objectives financed.

Given the above, will the Commission introduce simplified cost options to pave the way for participation by other stakeholders in ESF activities?

Answer given by Ms Thyssen on behalf of the Commission

To increase the use of Simplified Cost Options (SCOs) in the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), including the European Social Fund (ESF), in the current programming period, the Common Provisions Regulation (1) provides for an expanded range of options, including:

- Pre-defined flat-rates set out in the Regulations which mean Member States no longer have to justify the setting of flat rates.

- The ability to re-use existing national schemes which apply an SCO.

- The ability to re-use simplified costs already set out in existing EU policies.

More specifically for the ESF, Regulation (EU) No 1304/2013 (2) empowers the Commission to adopt a Delegated Regulation setting out amounts to be reimbursed to member States on the basis of simplified costs. Because the amounts are defined ex ante, this provided additional certainty to the Member States on their rate. Moreover, the use of SCOs is also compulsory for small ESF operations – defined as grants and repayable assistance for which public support does not exceed EUR 50,000. This is to avoid control on actual costs which are not cost-effective given the low value to be checked.

In the framework of the mid-term revision of the Multiannual Financial Framework, the Commission adopted on 14 September 2016 its proposal for the 'Omnibus Regulation' (3) which sets out proposed amendment to, amongst other, the Common Provisions Regulation. Among the changes proposed are further measures aimed at reducing the administrative burden on beneficiaries, in particular through the increased use of simplified costs (4).

(1) Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013.

(2) The ESF Regulation.

(3) COM (2016) 605 final.

(4) See Annex.

Question to the Commission by Othmar Karas (PPE) on Commission's economic forecasts and the concept of 'wellbeing'

The research project 'Welfare, Wealth and Work – a new growth path for Europe' (WWWforEurope) brings together 34 leading research institutions from 12 Member States. Funded by the Commission, it was launched in April 2012 as a four-year project within the 7th Framework Programme. The project establishes a vision for Europe's future in 2050, defining the criterion of 'wellbeing' as the overarching indicator of success. Defining 'wellbeing' substitutes the prevailing dominant concept of GDP and GDP growth. The success of Europe 2050 will be measured by the level and change of wellbeing. This can be done with the 'Better Life' indicators of the OECD and the EU.

The Commission's economic forecasts concentrate on the EU, the individual Member States and the euro area, but also include outlooks for some of the world's other major economies, and for countries that are candidates for EU membership.

1 Has the Commission discussed the concept of 'wellbeing' in the past?

2 Will the Commission consider including the concept of 'wellbeing' in its future economic forecast?

3 Does the Commission see an added value in the concept of 'wellbeing' for future policy developments?

Answer given by Mr Moscovici on behalf of the Commission

1 Although the concept of 'wellbeing' has been formalised rather recently, the Commission has been taking into account a large range of data and indicators when assessing the socio-economic situations of countries and when formulating policies and policy advice. The data includes economic, social and environmental dimensions, and some of those directly concern wellbeing. For instance, the Europe 2020 targets include employment, poverty and environmental issues; the Eurobarometer Survey also includes a number of issues that are less quantifiable, such as perceptions; the European Working Conditions Survey (1) monitors workers' perceptions with respect to the quality of their work. Beyond those indicators, the Commission constantly analyses the situation within Member States by adopting a broad approach.

2 For the time being the Commission is not considering including the concept of wellbeing in future economic forecasts. It considers GDP per capita as one wellbeing indicator.

3 The concept of 'wellbeing' as it is developed is a useful source of information, notably through the indicators developed and their underlying data. It is a complement to, rather than a substitute for, GDP and GDP per capita. In particular, the project 'Welfare, Wealth and Work – a new growth path for Europe' (WWWforEurope) is in line with the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. One of the main objectives of the project is to strengthen the analytical foundation of the Europe 2020 strategy, in particular for future policy developments.

(1) The EWCS is carried out by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions