EPHA calls on the European institutions to maintain health high on the political agenda and continue voting for ambitious budgets that deliver health objectives and policies essential to the health and wellbeing of citizens. The budget vote is a considerable element in determining the EU’s future, its priorities, and how policies are put on the political agenda. This also implies that the budget designed should answer the fundamental needs of EU citizens and support the EU in facing upcoming challenges. The final EU budget for 2023 provides higher support regarding the emergency response needs in Ukraine, the energy crisis, but also to health through the EU4Health Programme and support to the Health and Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA). It was adopted by the European Parliament in October 2022, where it was highlighted that the voted budget was more ambitious than the Council’s proposal in delivering policies that answer the needs of citizens. An agreed budget of EUR 168.6 billion budget was then set in November showing an increase of 1% compared to 2021.
The EU4Health Work Programme 2023 was then published, with a budget of EUR 735.8 million. While the Council proposal would have cut payments on the EU4Health Programme by EUR 22 million compared to the European Commission’s, the Parliament’s proposal reinforced the Programme by EUR 25 million above the draft budget. However, this budget is still lower than the amount allocated for the programme in 2022 (EUR 835.4 million). The EU4Health Work Programme will support actions to strengthen the EU’s resilience to health threats, as the latter do not stop at borders; the implementation of the Health Data Space; the Pharmaceutical Strategy; and the Beating Cancer Plan. Elements of the Ukraine crisis are also foreseen. Against the background of a persistent pandemic and other emerging crises, it is key that the EU provides the means to face related challenges, but also to improve public health, tackling health inequalities and access to healthcare as key priorities on the political agenda.
With public health and health systems being put at the core of policies, health has gained momentum during the pandemic. Facing this continuing context of pandemic and multi-crises will only be possible if a significant and resourceful budget is provided, starting at the EU level. It is worth stressing (and repeating often) that health is of crucial importance to the well-being of the economy and that health investments offer high returns for society. In our opinion, central health topics should be prioritised in the coming years in the European citizens’ interests. Furthermore, it should be stressed that any funding cut on health policies will have an impact and cause higher costs in the long term when capacity is suddenly required again due to rising health threats. Strong health policies backed by an ambitious EU budget would indeed be needed in the field of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), but also in tackling inequalities, or in ensuring access to medicines. This financial support should also be targeted on the support to health NGOs at European, national, and local levels.
The budget decisions should reflect the priorities of the EU. An ambitious health budget should be translated into strong EU health policies that answer the needs of EU citizens. A Eurobarometer study from 2022 showed that citizens trust the EU to make the right decisions in the future concerning responses to the pandemic (63%), indicating that EU action in the field is more than needed and should be backed by significant funding. Concerning other current challenges, EU citizens also largely agreed (85%) that tackling climate change can help improve their own health and well-being, showing that this is a great concern among Europeans.
To respond to the needs and expectations of citizens, the EU needs a budget that delivers on health policies and improves public health. Therefore, EPHA welcomes the vote from the Parliament and encourages the European Commission and the Council to follow this trend in the coming years. The upcoming mid-term review of the multiannual financial framework (MFF) 2021-2027 happening in 2023 is an opportunity to do so. EPHA will stand ready to provide input in that process.