Improving health equity in Europe
Priorities for the 2024-2029 EU policy landscape
EuroHealthNet launches its priorities for the European Union (EU) to improve health equity and wellbeing in Europe by 2030 through action on the determinants of health – underlying conditions in which people are born, grow up, live, learn and work, and age.
The proposed priorities take forward the aims of the EU Treaties to promote peace and European values, namely human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity, and the wellbeing of its peoples (Art.3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU). The EU’s objective to protect health across all EU policies (Art.168 of TFEU) provides the legal base for the EU and its Member States to accelate policy action for health equity, especially in areas traditionally considered ‘out of the health policy remit’ such as employment, education, environment, agriculture, trade or economy.
"EuroHealthNet’s aim is to reduce health inequalities in Europe. There is still a difference of 9 years in life expectancy between countries in the EU and the gap in healthy life expectancy is even bigger – up to 18 years. Inequalities lead to social unrest and lack of trust in institutions. They are primarily a result of our policy actions and how we shape our societies. Reducing inequalities should therefore be a key priority for the EU."
Overview of EuroHealthNet's priorities post-2024
- EuroHealthNet’s overarching vision is to achieve a Wellbeing Economy in the EU, which benefits people and planet, and ensures peace, human dignity, equal opportunities, and fairness.
- European Institutions should strengthen and uphold the EU’s social objectives and act on the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) as a tool for achieving health equity and a Wellbeing Economy.
- The European Health Union should be broadened to encompass other health priorities.
1. EuroHealthNet’s overarching vision is to achieve a Wellbeing Economy in the EU, which benefits people and planet, and ensures peace, human dignity, equal opportunities, and fairness.
2. European Institutions should strengthen and uphold the EU’s social objectives and act on the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) as a tool for achieving health equity and a Wellbeing Economy.
3. The European Health Union should be broadened to encompass other health priorities.
I. EuroHealthNet’s overarching vision is to achieve a Wellbeing Economy in the EU, which benefits people and planet, and ensures peace, human dignity, equal opportunities, and fairness.
Europe faces multiple, overlapping, escalating crises, and armed conflicts, fuelled by social, political, ecological, and economic pressures. These crises are causing preventable health inequalities to rise between and within European countries.
Siloed, reactionary, and disconnected responses cannot overcome these complex challenges; they require a common, overarching, and visionary response. This response must be transversal across all EU and European-level government actors as well as across sectors, and it must be based on engaging the whole of society.
A Wellbeing Economy is an alternative economic model which revolves around investing in all people, reducing inequities, and aligning production and consumption with planetary boundaries. It is about ensuring our economies are reoriented to better deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals and go beyond, valuing not just economic, but also human, social, natural, and cultural capital equally.
All actors have a role to play in supporting this reorientation. EU institutions, Member State authorities, civil society, communities and citizens, social enterprises, corporations, and businesses: all must be made aware, encouraged, and enabled to contribute to this vision. Robust and transparent EU governance structures that support peaceful coexistence and meet basic human need are key, as is empowering people and giving them a voice and a platform.
To ensure high-level attention to and coordination of efforts across the whole of the European Commission, EuroHealthNet recommends that a new Commission Vice-President for a Wellbeing Economy is appointed, in addition to the Commissioner for Health and Food.
EuroHealthNet also proposes using the European Semester as a key steering instrument to implement the Wellbeing Economy vision, guided by an upgraded Social Scoreboard containing additional social, environmental and wellbeing indicators and a Wellbeing Alert Mechanism for policy action.
II. European Institutions should strengthen and uphold the EU’s social objectives and act on the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) as a tool for achieving health equity and a Wellbeing Economy
The European Pillar of Social Rights, which sets out essential principles to build a fairer Europe, should be considered a “Pillar for Health Equity”. All 20 principles and rights constitute essential conditions for ensuring that everyone attains their full potential for health and wellbeing. Quality and adequately paid work, social protection, and public services need to be guaranteed for all groups in society, in particular those that face disadvantage.
Specific action must be taken to realise Principle 16 on equitable and affordable access to timely (preventative) health services of good quality within and between Member States. A Wellbeing Economy approach offers a wider complementary framework for implementing the EPSR Action Plan by 2030, guided by an EU-wide anti-poverty strategy.
A Wellbeing Economy approach offers a wider complementary framework for implementing the EPSR Action Plan by 2030, guided by an EU-wide anti-poverty strategy.
Facing an uncertain future, we must foster convergence, solidarity, trust and resilience across Europe. Demographic change and the digital and green transitions require strong and visionary governance and adaptable public services to ensure all populations benefit.
In particular, we must ensure that the next generation benefits from essential social rights so that it can develop under conditions that promote their health and wellbeing and build essential skills to inherit a rapidly changing world. Policy measures to ensure wellbeing of children and young people across all groups must therefore be prioritised.
III. The European Health Union should be broadened to encompass other health priorities
The European Health Union (EHU) is a welcome framework to bring together health policy measures, but it should be made more holistic, incorporating health equity as a key indicator of EU progress.
A stronger focus on the burden of noncommunicable diseases and inequalities in their distributional impact should be included. The EHU should also coordinate a more strategic approach towards mental health across all EU policies.
The EU should make greater use of social and behavioural science, such as Behavioural and Cultural Insights recommended by the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe to inform policymaking and practices.
The push for universal health coverage should be broadened to include emerging digital challenges and opportunities.
Bolder action on the commercial determinants of health can reduce power imbalances, create more level playing fields for businesses, set conditionalities to growth, and limit the proliferation of unhealthy and unsustainable products and industries.
We need the EU to accelerate the implementation of commitments in the prevention pillar of the European Beating Cancer Plan, specifically legislative files regarding alcohol, smoking, and nutrition, currently delayed due to various vested interests.
The climate crisis is among the most urgent challenges we face today. Its impact on planetary health places our own health and the resilience of our health systems at risk. This impact is unequally distributed and felt. While all of us are affected, people in more vulnerable situations are particularly at risk, both from the consequences of climate change and that of being left behind by solutions to adapt to and mitigate it.
The EU institutions need to support Member States to develop health-enabling living and working environments. This area will need significant financial investments, which could trigger co-benefits for health equity such as new employment opportunities and cross-sector partnerships.
Other health co-benefits should be explored and exploited. EU institutions should guide and incentivise MS to prioritise greening the health care sector.
Our food environments have also become increasingly unhealthy, particularly in more deprived areas. Trends of overweight and obesity are on the rise, including among children. Achieving sustainable and healthy food systems is a key priority for health equity.
EuroHealthNet urges the EU institutions to lead in creating and legally protecting healthier and more sustainable food environments, including at global level, creating value for people and planet.
To make this happen, EuroHealthNet calls for the new European Commissioner for Health and Food to receive a broadened portfolio on food; one that includes aspects such as healthy nutrition, food environments, and regulating marketing and advertising of unhealthy foods to children.
With European elections due in June 2024 – and with only 6 years remaining to achieve the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals – EuroHealthNet has presented its 2024-2029 policy priorities for the EU. EuroHealthNet calls on the EU institutions to align its policy objectives and efforts under the banner of a Wellbeing Economy, to ensure the sustained health and wellbeing of people and planet and to improve social equity in health for all people living in Europe.