EuroHealthNet stimulates new approaches at EU levels for health at Brussels conference, by Clive Needle, EurohealthNet Policy and Advocacy Director

05 September 2014

Invited by EPHA, the European Public Health Alliance, to participate in the opening panel debate at the EPHA open Conference 2014 in Brussels, EuroHealthNet policy director Clive Needle suggested that a way forward for EU policies could be to focus more on wellbeing, equity and sustainability across all policies to maximise health, social, environmental and economic objectives.

Speaking in a discussion with outgoing EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg, Jean Lambert MEP, WHO Europe Chief Scientist Roberto Bertollini and Professor Johann Mackenbach, Clive argued that headline indicators of narrowing health inequalities between EU states mask deeper evidence of the growing impacts of financial crises and cuts in recent years and widening inequities within states and communities. ‘’I don’t want to be a Jeremiah prophesising too gloomy messages’’ he said, ‘’but the stark reality is that, in the words of the old Pink Floyd song, too many people in Europe are ‘hanging on in quiet desperation’. We need to offer them real hope.”

He reminded the packed audience of health and social organisations at the International Press Centre, just a few steps from EU headquarters, that the headline purpose of the EU includes Treaty commitments to ‘’promote peace, cohesion and wellbeing for its citizens’’ in addition to the specific provisions of the articles on ensuring public health in all EU policies. He urged support for social investment programmes, focussed on people before technologies – ‘’cutting jobs or conditions in health systems increases unemployment or poverty rather than effectively meeting economic and social needs – it just shifts the burdens ahead’’.

Explaining how EuroHealthNet has adapted to new challenges in its operations and work within the EU employment and social programmes as well as health and research, Clive appealed to all participants to practice more effective partnerships towards common causes and to accept shared responsibility in times when governments cannot succeed alone. ‘’We need to work with local communities but also with businesses in one of the biggest markets in the world, not just about healthy products but also why tackling poor pay and conditions offers multiple benefits’’ he said. ‘’Remember the most difficult word in politics is ’NO’.  Choices are necessary. Not everything we want is achievable immediately, but we all need to be part of solutions, not only expose problems. For that we need to identify meaningful targets and improve accountability for all in the EU institutions within the next five years.’’

Several EuroHealthNet colleagues and members also participated at the event, including President Nicoline Tamsma and Managing Director Caroline Costongs. Clive Needle is working with the Executive Board to complete the EuroHealthNet submission to the EU2020 priority strategic consultation now underway.

What do you think?

  • Could these suggestions be effective common causes for health promoters to work on at EU levels to 2020?
  • How can complex approaches for wellbeing, sustainable development and health equity be prioritised?
  • What targets, metrics and indicators can be used?