A European Health Union in the making? – Ensuring EU solidarity for a better healthcare for all

A European Health Union in the making?

ESU-video Conference 20 April

Context: Need for EU coordination and solidarity 

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense human suffering and stretched health systems to the limit. The measures needed to contain the pandemic and save lives have a huge impact on our livelihoods. Health workers are at the front line, working day and night to care for COVID-19 patients. EU Member States have moved from unilateral action to mutual support, either by hosting COVID-19 patients from neighboring countries or by sending health workers and essential medical equipment. Cooperation and coordination at EU level has become the norm. However, it is a daily struggle and in difficult times national priorities are given priority. Sometimes it is even difficult to reach consensus between regions and cities in the same state. 

A European Union for Health, EPP position on health, 1 July 2020

The EPP Group in the European Parliament has taken the initiative to initiate a broad reflection on the lessons to be learned from the pandemic, putting health policy at the heart of the recovery priorities. 

COVID-19 has shown that “Health” needs to become more central to European politics. In its position paper of 1 July 2020, the EPP Group calls for the rapid introduction of a European Union for Health. Not only the pandemic, but also other trends such as climate challenges, better access to treatment for all, high prevalence of chronic diseases, digitalisation (e-health), demographic changes and the sustainability of healthcare systems require coordinated responses at EU level, as they are to some extent common to all Member States. It is clear that the potential for more coordinated European action exists. As everyone is keen to know what steps the European administration will take next in the field of health policy, and given the relevance to the older generation, we organized our video conference on this subject. 

Video Conference on 20 April 2021

As the first keynote speaker we welcomed Stella Kyriakides, she is EU commissioner for Cyprus since 1 December 2019. She is responsible for ‘Health and Food Safety’ within the commission. She spoke with great respect about the role of the older people in society. She stressed the importance of European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and European Medicines Agency (EMA), the responsiveness of such organisations should be optimised. Also citizens can and should do more for their health, the commission promotes sufficient physical exercise and a healthy diet, these are crucial against chronic diseases. 

“From now on, public health is a top priority for the EU” she stressed. To this end, she worked in line with the Green Paper on ageing, where long term care, mental care and loneliness are central, so that EU citizens can grow old in good health. There was a clear link with the work of Commissioner Suica Dubravka, this is important for seniors, we need to know what the horizon is.

Finally, she added that the EU vaccination development is the symbol of solidarity within Europe. Mrs Kyriakides invited us to remain active as seniors’ organisations because our input is crucial! 

We have invited Mr Muresan as the second keynote speaker because he is a specialist on ‘European Recovery policies’. He is vice-president of the Committee on Budgets, he has been following and influencing the priorities, the choices and the road maps for the multi-annual budget and, of course, he is also aware of the needs and opportunities of the Member States. 

The outbreak of the coronavirus has dramatically changed the economic situation in Europe. Therefore, a European Recovery Fund – called Next Generation EU by the European Commission – has been put in place to deal with the impact of the crisis (see: Multiannual Budget 2021 – 2027). Mr Muresan clearly explained the areas in which this budget will be used, not only to set up large institutions, but also to support social initiatives. Each member state will have to submit a plan for the use of the budget to the EU commission for review. 

Our president An Hermans stressed that it is important for everyone, and especially for our members, to know what this budget will be used for, which choices governments in the Members States are making, especially regarding the social opportunities. 

Ensuring EU solidarity for a better healthcare for all

There is a very significant proportion of EU citizens who are over 65 years of age. This alone is reason enough to emphasize the need to take this generation of citizens more into account. On 29 April every year, the European Day of Solidarity between generations is an extra reminder of this. On the occasion of this festive day, we invited two special speakers who bridge the gap between generations: 

Carmen Quintanilla (66y): ESU Vice President and national President of AFAMMER

Carlo Giacomo Angrisano Girauta (24y) is President of the European Democratic Students (EDS).

Everything Carmen shared with us was clearly based on her work with women from rural areas, she brought a personal story and emphasized that getting old is not a disease and should not be seen as such. She also stressed that loneliness is a big problem among the older generation, especially due to the current pandemic. Find her speech in spanish here.  Carlo brought a message around the importance and relevance of solidarity, that solidarity is important for a structural way of working, but it starts in an informal way, within family, within communities, circles of friends… 

The video conference ended with questions, which were answered by MEP Siegfried Muresan. ESU President An Hermans thanked the 70 participants for their interest and invited them to actively follow the choices made by the governments in the Member States, furthermore she called for initiatives to be taken that would strengthen the well-being of all generations. 

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