European Parliament’s Special Cancer Committee adopts final report

BECA Committee MEPs look to strengthen EU's role in fighting cancer and drive move towards a European Health Union

By Andreas Rogal

Andreas Rogal is a senior journalist at the Parliament Magazine

13 Dec 2021

In the eighteen months of its existence, the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) has, according to its chair, listened to hundreds of experts and has consulted with numerous national parliaments.

Addressing MEPs as they discussed the final aspects of the committee’s report, Bartosz Arłukowicz (PL, EPP), said, “This is not just another report, one of many, but an important document with a clear message: ‘we have to save peoples’ lives together’, and it says things very clearly that have never been said.”

Arłukowicz, a paediatrician and former Polish health minister, argued that there was a silver lining to the tragedy of the Covid pandemic, saying, “We heard from the experts here that the progress in vaccination research means that, in three to five years’ time, the first cancer vaccines will be available”.

The final report, offers, what centre right EPP Group’s coordinator Cindy Franssen (BE) called, “a 360-degree approach”, addressing all aspects, “from prevention to screening, to equal access to treatment, all the way to after care and palliative care”.

In a passionate speech, Véronique Trillet-Lenoir (FR, Renew) - the special committee’s lead rapporteur for the report - presented members with a list of those who this report was written for.

She named patients, practitioners, researchers and survivors, including a patient in the constituency of her colleague Michèle Rivasi, the Green/EFA Group's shadow rapporteur, “looking for a test for the metastases of her breast cancer”, as well as “the researcher in Latvia looking for a patent for his promising new treatment but without any funding”.

“We heard from the experts here that the progress in vaccination research means that, in three to five years’ time, the first cancer vaccines will be available” Bartosz Arłukowicz MEP, Chair of the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Cancer (BECA)

The report was adopted with a strong majority, with only one vote against from the 34-strong committees. Cross-party harmony was evident throughout the meeting with comment from group coordinators and shadow rapporteurs following the announcement of the result on Thursday afternoon.

The ECR Group’s Joanna Kopcińska (PL), a BECA vice-chair, agreed with her Left Group colleague Kateřina Konecna (CZ) on the vital importance the report placed on equal access to provisions.

“The probability of survival cannot [just] depend on your postcode”, argued Antoni Comín i Oliveres (ES, NI), adding, “being European means that the probability of surviving cancer needs to be the same wherever you live."

The chances for that happening were now better than ever because, he said, not least due to the pandemic, “health policy is finally playing role it deserves in Europe”.

Nicolae Stefănuță (RO, Renew) suggested that “we have become a small family in the BECA committee”.

He reminded his committee colleagues that when European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen launched the EU’s Beating Cancer Plan, she had called it ‘a man on the moon moment’, adding “we cannot deliver anything less, certainly no failed launch”.

The Romanian liberal MEP has just been appointed as the Parliament’s main rapporteur on the 2023 EU budget, and as such he vowed to be “very careful that money will being going to health, and money is going to the Beating Cancer Plan”.

“Being European means that the probability of surviving cancer needs to be the same wherever you live" Antoni Comín i Oliveres MEP (ES, NI)

Returning to Arłukowicz, who had earlier talked of the need for elected politicians to be courageous enough to want to change the world for the better, remarked on the funds needed, “If we can co-finance building bridges, roads and museums together, as a Union, then we can surely start fighting the biggest killer of our times, Cancer”.

Among the proposals put forward in the report are significantly improved access to cross-border health care and clinical trials for cancer patients and extending the use of joint procurement procedures of cancer medicines.

Manuela Ripa (DE, Greens/EFA) highlighted the so-called “Right to be Forgotten” for patients in medical data trials as an important inclusion from her group’s point of view.

The Director General of Commission’s DG Health Directorate, John Ryan, attested to the fact that the BECA committee had accomplished a “great piece of work and a considered report”, with the number of amendments also bearing witness to the level of interest.

He promised that his staff (DG Sante) will now “look carefully and analyse [the report] to see how we can implement the different ideas”. The allocated “substantial” budget for the Beating Cancer Plan was €4bn, Ryan added.

The final BECA committee meeting ended in a full round of applause for Arłukowicz, initiated by the Trillet-Lenoir. The report is scheduled to reach plenary in February.