Manifesto Launches for New European Health Union
The manifesto website calls upon other policymakers, health experts and influencers, as well as members of the general public to sign as well, ahead of the moment when political leaders will formalize the frameworks for a new Health Union.

After catching Europe unprepared, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a window of opportunity to create a “European Health Union”. And what was once a long-simmering initiative has picked up steam with a formal endorsement from the European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen, as well as proposals to strengthen Europe’s health security.

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President.

But a group of policy-minded European health experts want to ensure that the new vision of a European Health Union moves well beyond the realm of health security and pandemic response.

They are calling for a stronger commitment to climate and environmental health, health equity, preventive health – and the policies to achieve them in the context of the new European Health Union. They also want to etch a vision for the continent’s global health role, post pandemic.

The group on Tuesday issued a “Manifesto for a European Health Union” outlining their vision. The manifesto website calls upon other policymakers, health experts and influencers, as well as members of the general public to sign as well, ahead of the moment when political leaders will formalize the frameworks for a new Health Union at upcoming sessions of the European Council and the next Conference on the Future of Europe.

“This will not be the last pandemic. There will also be many other threats to health, including the effects of climate change, antimicrobial resistance, and much else. We cannot continue with life as before. We have to safeguard our societies but in ways that are proportionate to the dangers which threaten them,” the manifesto declares.

“We are happy that for once, at last, after decades, the European Union is putting health so high on the agenda,” Ilona Kickbusch, founding director and chair of the Global Health Centre, and a leading member of the Manifesto initiative, told Health Policy Watch. “But we know how volatile European policies are, and we want to show the Commission that there is broad support out there [for an EHU].”

Ilona Kickbusch, Founding Director of the Graduate Institute’s Global Health Programme in Geneva.

The manifesto sets out a vision of a European Health Union that would:

  • Strive for the health and wellbeing of all Europeans, with no one left behind
  • Strengthen solidarity within and among Member States, based on the principle of progressive universalism, providing support, including universal health coverage, for all, but with particular attention to the needs of those who are disadvantaged
  • Ensure environmental sustainability, by adopting the European Green Deal and prioritising measures to promote One Health, the concept that links our health with that of the animals and plants with which we share this planet
  • Provide security for all Europeans, protecting them from the major threats to health and from the vulnerability that is created by living a precarious existence
  • Enable everyone’s voice to be heard, so that policies that affect their health are created with them and not for them

Among the key measures proposed by the authors include the strengthening of health policies in European Treaties; expanding the EU’s involvement in health research; addressing the uneven distribution of health workers across the continent; and development of a Global Health Policy for the European Union.

Another component of the manifesto includes the creation of a Health Emergency preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) to prevent the delay and floundering seen during the COVID pandemic.

While some of the elements of the manifesto’s proposals could be adopted rapidly and without major changes to EU treaty agreements, others would likely need a stronger legal framework, Kickbusch said, noting, “probably if one is really, really serious about it, one should look at a treaty change in terms of what the European compentencies in health are.  And so we wanted to initiate a debate on the components that we saw as critical.”

The manifesto falls in line with European Commission President Dr Ursula von der Leyen’s proposal, made at her September State of the Union address, for a stronger health union in Europe and greater focus on cross-border coordination.

When work initially began on the manifesto in July, the European Parliament was considering a series of cuts to in the health budget, made by the heads of governments in the European Council.  Although the funding cuts were ultimately rejected by the Parliament, which produced a much higher budget for health, it is important to ensure, going forward, that investments are made holistically, said Kickbusch.

“It seemed important for us to ask what this actually implies,” Kickbusch said, adding that it was important that funds are not allocated solely to pandemic preparedness – “as important as that may be.”

Image Credits: European Health Union, European Parliament, European Health Forum Gastein.

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