Strengthening Public Health Across the European Union

A closer looks at EPHA’s priorities ahead of the European elections

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe in March 2020, the issue of health has risen considerably up the European political agenda, making the EU’s 2019-2024 mandate an essential guide for public health policies. The crisis also prompted the EU to establish a European Health Union, that now needs to be further developed. Furthermore, coordination on vaccines and on crisis management was key, nearly from the start of the mandate, as was the creation of the new Directorate General for Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (DG HERA). Throughout this time, several important health initiatives have been developed, notably Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and the European Health Data Space, together with calls for an initiative on mental health. Other developments, such as the EU Green Deal will also be crucial in protecting health in the future. Recently, the new Global Health Strategy was published, and the mandate has also seen progress on the Pharmaceutical Strategy even if this and other initiatives, such as the Food Information to Consumers Regulation, have been delayed. The next mandate will need to deliver on initiatives that have already started, as well on those expected to be launched, and close the implementation gap. It will also need to ensure that health continues to be maintained high up the political agenda.

Ahead of the 2024 European Parliamentary elections, the European Public Health Alliance has identified five key priorities to keep health high on the political agenda, advance public health for all, and promote more resilient and equitable public health systems across the European Union.

Keeping health as a top priority on the EU political agenda

Investing in health and wellbeing for all must be a priority. The effects of neglecting health became evident in the COVID-19 pandemic, one of several concurrent crises. The EU must commit to breaking policy silos, use systems-thinking in addressing the permacrisis, and increase actions on health across all policy areas. This should be embodied in a dedicated European Commission Vice-President on health and social rights and wellbeing.

Providing the means for an ambitious EU health policy

Secure an ambitious budget for health. Delivering ambitious EU objectives at the EU and global levels requires that health be viewed as an investment rather than a cost. Investing in health systems and addressing health workforce shortages across the EU, and in parallel investing in disease prevention and health promotion policies, is the only way to secure social cohesion, equity, wellbeing and productivity across the EU.

Ensuring equal access to health and care

In prioritising health, the EU should ensure that its policies aimed at improving public health and building health-enabling environments are developed with equity in mind and reach all people living in the EU. Particular attention should be paid to marginalised groups, who often face inequities, especially in accessing health and care, and in the context of digital transformation of health systems.

Enhancing civil society participation in health policymaking

Among its activities and roles, civil society is a watchdog, securing the transparency and democracy of the European policy making process. It is also critical in supporting the most vulnerable in adverse times, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war. It is the EU’s responsibility to safeguard inclusive and transparent policymaking processes that provide civil society with a real seat at the table, including in co-creation of policies, programmes and services. To do so systematically, a Civil Society Strategy that will secure adequate and sustainable funding for civil society of all sectors, including through multiannual frameworks for operating grants, is vital.

Securing a healthy planet for healthy people

Secure the EU’s capacity for resilience and robustness in an era of permacrisis. The EU faces a converging set of crises, ranging from pandemics and geopolitical conflicts to climate change and socio-economic instability. It is essential to implement a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary approach to create a strong healthy environment. A key component of this environment should be the promotion of health-focused research for implementation and innovation, given the cross-cutting impact of health on all areas of life. An important element should be the promotion of research and innovation in health.

These priorities are in line with the best available evidence and aligned with the expectations
of EU citizens regarding several determinants of health.

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