Appointing a Commission Vice-President for the Wellbeing Economy and stepping up on unfinished EU initiatives
EuroHealthNet has kicked off an internal process to define new European Union (EU) health priorities for after the 2024 European Parliament elections. Following the elections, a new European Commission will work on its policy priorities for the next 5 years cycle.
With its long-standing commitment to driving health for all policies and health equity, EuroHealthNet provides insight and experience to identify unfinished and new priorities for health and wellbeing in the EU. EuroHealthNet’s Director, Caroline Costongs, highlighted some of these priorities at the European Health Forum Gastein, held this week.
“EuroHealthNet’s overarching priority 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. Inequalities should therefore be a key priority for the EU as well."
Director of EuroHealthNet
EuroHealthNet recommends that
- A new Commission Vice-President for the Wellbeing Economy be appointed to ensure high-level attention to and coordination of efforts to ensure the health and wellbeing of people and planet. The European Semester, which is the annual cycle of EU economic and social policy coordination, could serve as a key instrument to making this happen.
- The European Health Union (EHU) be expanded to encompass other health priorities, including leadership on the non-communicable diseases (NCD) initiative, and monitoring and acting on health inequalities. From its current initiatives, the EHU should take forward unfinished files from Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, related to the commercial determinants of health, and lead the roll-out of its comprehensive mental health approach across EU policies and EU Member States.
- The European Pillar of Social Rights, which sets out principles to build a fairer Europe, be a compass for action and a “pillar for health equity”. Action must be taken to realise Principle 16 on equitable and affordable access to (preventative) health services within and between Member States, and to better reflect the principle in Cohesion Policy Funds programming.
- The new Commissioner for Health and Food (Safety) receive a broadened portfolio on food that includes aspects such as healthy nutrition and achieving sustainable food systems. The unfinished business on the Food Information to Consumers (FIC) rules should be a key priority, in addition to a new EU directive regulating marketing and advertising of unhealthy foods and sugary drinks to children.
To help the public health community make better use of EU funding and tools, Caroline Costongs also announced the launch of EuroHealthNet’s new Guide to National Focal Points for EU Programmes, Instruments, and Networks. It is the first time that one resource brings together information about key contact persons for European funding programmes and technical assistance across EU Member States, to help facilitate more equitable use of these important resources.
Further take aways from European Health Forum Gastein
The Forum’s annual theme was ‘Health Systems in Crisis: Countering Shockwaves and Fatigue.’ Participants acknowledged that the pandemic and post-pandemic period had gravely impacted on the resilience of the health system and health workforce. In response to the health and economic crisis, unprecedented levels of EU funding were released, including the Recovery and Resilience Fund (RRF) and the largest European health programme in history.
Sandra Gallina, Director General for Health and Food Safety at the European Commission (DG SANTE), encouraged Forum participants to build their capacity to absorb these funds in order to ensure sustained high levels of funding in the future. Developing further awareness of and synergies between European programmes can be a fundamental way to achieve this. More should also be done to identify and capitalise on co-benefits (e.g. between EU4Health and the EU Green Deal or EU4Health and the European Child Guarantee).
Adopting a collective vision, such as a Wellbeing Economy, can ensure that funds are optimally utilised to address the greatest challenges our health and social systems face now and in the years to come.