European Conservatives and Reformists must come up with its own clear health strategy

Whilst health remains a competency of member states in the EU, it is clear than the boundaries have been blurred by COVID-19 and a new strategy is needed

By Joanna Kopcinska

Joanna Kopcinska MEP (ECR, Poland), Vice-Chair of SANT and member of ENVI,

05 Apr 2024

The most important action of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group in preparing a EU health policy strategy should be to formulate a clear position on three leading global trends within the European Union, which influence the shaping of the European public health agenda. The ’European Health Union’, ’One Health’, and the ’Health in all policies’-strategy are the key concepts that will define the next decade of all public health efforts, regardless of the specific issues addressed during the upcoming 2024-2029 term. While the Treaties still leave public health matters within the domain of the Member States, it is becoming increasingly evident that the previous boundary defining the division between EU and national competences is becoming blurred, a process that accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a consequence, at the beginning of my mandate, which coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, I adopted a specific position, seeking a balance – on the one hand, preserving national competencies and ensuring patient safety, and on the other hand, embracing the new paradigm of public health policy that was coming to dominate the European agenda, later referred to as the European Health Union. The three main projects of this Union – the reform of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the reorganisation of the European Medicines Agency, and the establishment of common frameworks for crisis response in the Serious Cross-Border Health Threats report (SCBTH) – were carefully scrutinised by the ECR Group in order to limit any attempt to unnecessarily extend European policy into areas that are not relevant to health security and patient welfare.

At present, particular efforts are needed to ensure that public health policy decisions are not simply used as a catalyst for change within the newly formed Alliance for Critical Medicines (to be launched in April 2024). It is difficult at this stage to predict the role of the Alliance and its relationship with the European Parliament, but the Parliament will undoubtedly require its representation or presence during the Alliance's activities.

In this context, just as I have been chosen to be the contact person between the Parliament and the ECDC Agency, the ECR Group should also advocate for a representative or a liaison with the Alliance, actively participating in and monitoring actions aimed at restoring medication security in Europe. The issue of drug shortages certainly poses a challenge for the legislative work of the 2024-2029 term. Efforts to address the issue will undoubtedly need to continue. It should be noted that long before work began on the first Parliament-initiated report on drug shortages, I intervened with the European Commission on this issue and twice expressed my concerns to the institution, thus pre-empting the report with my questions (interpellations E-000263/2020 and E-003352/2020).

Another priority for the European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the field of public health should be the continuation of work on two flagship initiatives embedded in the multiannual financial framework, namely the EU4Health programme (whose budget was cut by 20 per cent in February) and the related but also separate European Cancer Plan programme. While the budget cuts to the EU4Health programme are currently unknown, it is highly likely that a significant proportion of the investment will continue.

It is certainly necessary to monitor and continue the work that I have undertaken as a Member of the European Parliament in the current term. I have been involved in all EU4Health activities from the very beginning, and as Vice-Chair of the Parliament's Special Committee on Beating Cancer, I have actively participated in committee work and expert hearings.