Public demand is clear but political will could be a blocker for EU action in health

The European Health Union is an ongoing effort which could offer new opportunities for Europe’s citizens writes Tilly Metz MEP

By Tilly Metz

Tilly Metz (LU, Greens/EFA) is a member of Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee

05 Apr 2024

Health is a public good to which everyone has a right. The pandemic was tragic evidence that underinvestment, privatisation, and the neglect of public health put patients and health workers at risk, both physically and mentally.

As the European Parliament will embark on its new mandate for 2024-2029, it will face a multitude of pressing issues that demand bold solutions. Among these challenges, the intersection of environmental sustainability and public health stands out as a paramount concern. The climate crisis is a severe threat to human and animal health.

The new Parliament will have to face a growing number of climate change deniers to advocate for policies that prioritise the health and wellbeing of all in Europe while safeguarding our planet for future generations. Taking decisive actions in sectors with direct impact on public health will be key - reducing emissions, transitioning to renewable energy sources, limiting air pollution and supporting sustainable and healthy food production are just some examples.

Central to this effort is the full implementation of the One Health approach in EU policies. By addressing root causes of health risks at their source, we can mitigate the spread of infectious diseases, antimicrobial resistance, and other emerging threats to health that transcend national borders.

The construction of the European Health Union is not yet finished. Some of its pillars still need to be completed, such as the revision of the EU pharmaceutical legislation and the implementation of the European Health Data Space. Together we have to make sure that member states provide everyone in Europe with universal health coverage.

The next Parliament will have to push to eliminate health inequities and guarantee access to affordable medicines and treatments, including for cancer and rare diseases. The ongoing revision of HERA's mandate and form is also an excellent moment to strengthen this pillar of the EHU by transferring it into a fully independent EU agency ensuring better pandemic preparedness and emergency response when needed.

It is almost certain that the next mandate of the European Parliament will have to deal with the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive. This presents an opportunity to strengthen regulations and protect public health from the harms of smoking. The EU must adopt evidence-based measures to reduce tobacco consumption, especially among young people, and deal with novel tobacco and nicotine products.

The next Parliament has clear indications from citizens asking for more EU action in health

Another critical issue that demands attention is a challenge of shortages of health workers. As the demand for healthcare services continues to rise the EU must invest in training, recruitment, and retention strategies to ensure an adequate supply of healthcare professionals across Europe.

Equally important is the need to address mental health with a dedicated strategy that prioritises prevention, early intervention, and access to high-quality mental health services. Mental ill health affects millions of Europeans and impose a significant burden on individuals, families, and society as a whole.

The next Parliament has clear indications from citizens asking for more EU action in health. Whether the EU delivers, it will depend on the political will. New Parliament will have to keep voicing these demands, as difficult trade-offs between health and other policies will become more common. 

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