The EU’s Health Policy

EU cooperation in the area of health relates to a broad field such as health promotion and disease prevention, fighting cross-border health threats, patients’ access to treatment in other EU Member States as well as wide-ranging regulation of tobacco products, medical products and medical devices.

During the Danish Presidency of the Council of the EU, a number of dossiers on the health area will dominate the work of the Council. Below you can read more about these matters and the EU’s health policy.

Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)

Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) does not respect national borders, and the rising level of resistance due to the increased use of antibiotics in both humans and animals is a challenge for most European countries.

AMR has been dealt with by previous Presidencies and the Danish Presidency will build on the results already achieved. Major challenges still lie ahead, and Denmark considers it important to keep the issue high on the agenda in the EU.

During the Presidency there will be a focus on promoting a more rational use of antibiotics and on strengthening and improving the surveillance of the use of and resistance to antibiotics. Additionally, Denmark’s focus will be on reducing the use of antibiotics in humans and animals, including a particular decrease in the use of critically important antimicrobials (CIA’s) in animals. The headline of the initiative is “Prudent Use” which focuses on promoting a more prudent and rational use of antibiotics.  

Furthermore, the Danish Presidency of the Council in the EU will follow up on the Commission’s strategy on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) from November 2011 and will stay in close dialogue with the Commission regarding this subject.

Action Programme in the Field of Health

The overriding purpose of the EU Action Programme in the Field of Health (2008-2013) is to help to achieve a high level of protection for the health and safety of European citizens. The programme has three objectives:

  • To improve citizens' health security
  • To promote health, which involves reducing inequalities in this area
  • To generate and disseminate health information and knowledge

Along with the programme, funds have been allocated in the EU’s budget for the financing of projects and joint initiatives that can contribute to achieving these objectives.

The present Action Programme in the Field of Health expires on 31 December 2013. In autumn 2011 the Commission presented a proposal for a new Action Programme in the Field of Health that will be up for discussion during the Danish Presidency.

Amendment of the Directive on Tobacco

At present the Commission is preparing an amendment of the present directive on tobacco from 2001.
The directive aims to ensure a well-functioning Internal Market for tobacco products as well as to ensure a high level of health protection.

The existing directive provides a number of requirements that tobacco products on the European market have to fulfil. These requirements among others concern the determination of threshold values for tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide, provisions on warning labels, bans on the use of terms such as “light”, “mild” and the like, as well as requirements on filing which additives are used in tobacco products.

The Commission has completed a public consultation concerning the revision of the Directive and has received more than 85,000 consultation responses.

Amendment of the Transparency Directive

In May 2011, the Commission completed a broad public consultation on the need for an amendment of the Transparency Directive.

The Transparency Directive aims to ensure transparency in the measures that Member States establish for the purpose of controlling prices of and limit public reimbursement for medical products.

The public consultation was initiated because the market for medical products and the Member States’ provisions on control and limitation of the expenses for medicinal products have changed significantly since the Directive was originally launched in the 1980s. Therefore, the Commission wished to explore the need for an amendment of the directive. The consultation was among others directed towards a possible expansion of the scope of the Directive.

The Health Threats Package

The opening negotiations of the Commission’s proposal for a Health Threats Package will take place during the Danish Presidency of the Council of the EU.

The Purpose of the proposal is to achieve a cross-sectorial approach to health threats in order to link initiatives in the health sector to already existing EU policies in other areas. The proposal is thus to ensure better coordination of crisis responses and crisis handling of major cross-border health threats.

The EU’s Health Policy
The EU has the mandate to compliment Member States’ initiatives in the area of health for the purpose of protecting people from health threats and diseases, promoting healthy lifestyles and helping national authorities in the EU to cooperate on health issues. This is especially relevant when it comes to major cross-border health threats.

Europeans’ health is not only affected by policies in the area of health, but also by policies within the areas of, among others, environment, food and employment. This applies for example to limits for pesticide residues in agricultural products and the EU's free fruit scheme for all pupils in primary school. Therefore it has been written into the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that health is to be included in the definition and execution of all EU policies.

The EU’s role in relation to cross-border health threats
The EU’s initiatives in the area of health should compliment national policies where they can contribute to the prevention of widespread diseases and other diseases in humans and also to the handling of issues that can entail a risk for  physical and mental health. The initiatives should include fighting major health threats as well as surveillance of major cross-border health threats, warning in case of such threats and the fight hereof.

Therefore, the Commission has put forward a proposal for a “Health Security Package” that aims to draw up long-term solutions for health security in the EU. The proposal for a “Health Security Package” should thus ensure better coordination of crisis response and crisis management of major cross-border health threats. 

Generally, the EU has legislative power in areas where there is a need to address common safety challenges. among others things, this means that EU Member States can adopt common initiatives intended to protect public health, for example in relation to tobacco and alcohol abuse. Furthermore, the EU also plays an important role when it comes to ensuring high standards for medical devices, medicinal products and the conduct of clinical trials on medicinal products for human use. 

The EU also collects and disseminates information about best practice which can benefit the Member States, just as the EU also supports local and regional health projects and campaigns.

The EU’s Health Strategy
In 2007 the EU launched a new strategy for public health, “Together for health: a strategic approach for the EU 2008-2013”, which is to tackle the more widespread challenges to public health such as an ageing population, cross-border health threats and life-style related diseases. EU’s Health Strategy contains four main principles:

  1. Shared health values
  2. Health is the greatest wealth
  3. Health in all policies (HIAP)
  4. Strengthening the EU’s voice in global health

The strategy is based on three strategic objectives:

  1. Fostering good health in an ageing Europe
  2. Protecting citizens from health threats
  3. Supporting dynamic health systems and new technologies

The EU has developed a programme for health, which is the main instrument to implement objectives of the Health Strategy. There is EUR 321.5 million available under the programme until 2013.

As the health programme expires in 2013, the future of the strategy and the programme will be on the agenda during the Danish Presidency of the Council.