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Improving #EUPublicHealth - measures explained



A photo of a radiology. Photo by Owen Beard on Unsplash 

The EU helps to improve public health though funding and legislation on a wide range of topics, such as food, diseases, clean air and more.

Why health policies are needed at EU level

National goverments are primarily responsible for organizing and delivering healthcare and social security. The EU's role is to complement and support member states in improving the health of Europeans, reducing health inequalities and moving towards a more social Europe.

Labour market developments and the free movement of people and goods in the internal market necessitate the coordination of public health issues. EU public health policy has helped countries pool resources and tackle common challenges such as antimicrobial resistance, preventable chronic diseases and an aging population.

The EU issues recommendations and has laws and standards to protect people, covering health products and services (such as pharmaceuticals, medical devices, eHealth), and patients (rules on patients' rights in cross-border healthcare).

EU Health Programme

The work is funded through the EU Health Programme, which encourages co-operation and promotes strategies for good health and health care.

The current health programme covers 2014-2020 and has a €450 million budget. Its aims are to:

  • Promote healthy lifestyles;
  • protect people in the EU from serious cross-border health threats;
  • facilitate access to high-quality and safe health care, and;
  • contribute to sustainable health systems.

Health-related funding will be integrated into the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) in the next EU long-term budget for 2021-2027.

Other funds for health issues are provided by the Horizon 2020 research programme, the EU cohesion policy and the European Fund for Strategic Investment.

Medicines and medical devices

The EU regulates the authorization and classification of medicines through the European medicines regulatory network, a partnership between the European Medicines Agency, national regulators and the European Commission. Once on the market, the safety of authorized products continues to be monitored.

There are specific EU rules covering medicines for children, rare diseases, advanced therapy products and clinical trials. The EU also has rules to fight falsified medicines and to ensure that the trade in medicines is controlled.

New rules on medical devices and in vitro diagnostic medical devices, such as heart valves or laboratory equipment, were adopted by MEPs in 2017 to keep up with scientific progress, improve safety and ensure better transparency.

As rules on the use of medical cannabis vary widely among EU countries, Parliament called for an EU-wide approach and properly funded scientific research in 2019.

Health care when abroad

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) ensures that people living in the EU can have access to medically necessary, state-provided health care during a temporary stay - whether a business trip, holiday, or a study abroad - in all EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Necessary health care should be provided under the same conditions and at the same cost (free in some countries) as people insured in that country.

Promoting health and tackling diseases

The EU works to promote health and prevent diseases in areas such as cancer, mental health and rare diseases, and provides information on diseases via the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Tobacco consumption is responsible for nearly 700,000 deaths every year in the EU. The updated EU tobacco directive, aiming to make tobacco products less attractive for young people, became applicable in 2016. The Council recommendation on smoke-free environments of 2009 calls on EU countries to protect people from being exposed to tobacco smoke in public places and at work.

About 30 million Europeans are affected by rare and complex diseases. To help with diagnoses and therapies, the EU set up the European Reference Networks (ERNs) in 2017. The 24 existing virtual networks bring together specialists from different countries working on different issues, for example on patient safety or prevention of antimicrobial resistance.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is on the rise, due to the overuse of antibiotics, improper disposal of medicines or the lack of development of new substances. It causes about 33,000 deaths per year in the EU. The EU’s 2017 action plan against antimicrobial resistance aims to promote awareness and better hygiene as well as stimulate research. A new regulation on veterinary medicinal products was adopted in 2018, to curb the use of antibiotics in farming and halt the spread of resistances from animals to humans.

Several EU countries are facing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, due to insufficient vaccination coverage rates. In a resolution adopted in 2018, MEPs call for a better aligned schedule for vaccination across Europe, more transparency in the production of vaccines and joint purchases to reduce prices.

Cleaner air, cleaner water

Poor air quality is the number one environmental cause of premature death in Europe. Since the early 1970s, the EU has taken action to control emissions of harmful substances. In 2016 a new directive was adopted setting tougher national emission limits for key air pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, to halve their impact on health compared to 2005.

The Water Framework Directive protects EU waters and concerns all ground and surface waters, including rivers, lakes and coastal waters.

Bathing waters are monitored for bacteria by EU countries through the bathing water directive. The EU is also updating its drinking water directive to further improve the quality of drinking water as well as access to it while also reducing waste caused by the consumption of bottled water.

Safe food

The EU has rules guaranteeing a high level of safety at all stages of the food production and distribution process. In 2017, official inspections throughout the food chain were tightened.

There are specific hygiene rules for:

  • Food of animal origin;
  • food contamination (setting maximum levels for contaminants such as nitrates, heavy metals or dioxins);
  • novel foods (produced from micro-organisms or with a new primary molecular structure), and;
  • food contact materials (such as packaging materials and tableware).

The EU also has a strict legal framework for the cultivation and commercialisation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) used in feed and food. The European Parliament is particularly attentive to potential health risks and has opposed plans for the authorisation of new genetically modified plants such as soybeans.

In 2019, MEPs adopted a report on how to improve the sustainable use of pesticides and backed the report of its special committee advocating more transparent authorisation procedures.

With more consumers buying organic food, the EU updated its rules on organic farming in 2018 to have stricter controls and better prevention of contamination.

Healthy workplaces

EU legislation sets minimum health and safety requirements to protect you in the workplace, whilst allowing member states to apply stricter provisions. There are specific provisions on the use of equipment, the protection of pregnant and young workers and the exposure to noise or specific substances, such as carcinogens and mutagens.

Europe’s ageing workforce and increasing retirement age create challenges for the health care system. In 2018, MEPs adopted measures to retain and reintegrate workers with injuries or chronic health problems into the workplace. This included making workplaces more adaptable through skills development programmes, ensuring flexible working conditions and providing support to workers, including coaching and providing access to a psychologist or therapist.

Inclusive society

To ensure people with disabilities participate fully in society, Parliament approved the European Accessibility Act in 2019. The new rules aim to ensure everyday products and key services - such as smartphones, computers, e-books, ticketing, check-in machines and ATMs - are accessible to elderly people and people with disabilities across the EU.

Find out more about EU social policies


Horizon Europe given the go-ahead.



"The Horizon Europe research, innovation and science programme will deliver economic recovery in Europe. But partnerships between public and private bodies must play a key part in rolling out the policy objectives of Horizon Europe". That is according to Abraham Liukang, the Huawei chief representative to the EU institutions.

Abraham Liukang, the Huawei chief representative to the EU institutions.

Abraham Liukang, the Huawei chief representative to the EU institutions.

Horizon Europe given the go-ahead.

EU Governments this week approved the legal texts that will give the formal go ahead to the new Horizon Europe programme. Negotiations will now shortly commence with the European Parliament to iron out any differences that exist between MEPS and EU governments. The bottom line is this:- legislators and key stakeholder groups alike are working towards ensuring that the Horizon Europe programme can and will commence in January 2021.


Partnerships – central element of Horizon Europe.

Partnerships between public and private bodies will be a key element of Horizon Europe. This is particularly the case when it comes to involving the ICT sector in Horizon Europe. There are going to be a number of hardcore ICT public private partnerships that will build the next generation of smart services and networks (SNS) in Europe. In reality, SNS will be the key vehicle that will be used to prepare Europe to introduce 6G later in this decade. There will also be a joint undertaking that will be devoted to improving the capability of Europe in the area of key digital technologies.


ICT – a driver for positive change.

It is impossible to de-compartmentalise or divorce the ICT sector from other parts of Horizon Europe. This is because, as a society we are now witnessing a digital transformation. Technology is now modernising the industrial, agriculture, health, education, smart city, energy and transport sectors. There is a whole ambit of research activity that is enshrined in Horizon Europe that contains a technological component. In other words, research and innovation actions weave through the whole of Horizon Europe from the sections of this programme that deal with basic science right through to the delivery of new ICT products into the marketplace.


International Co-operation.

Horizon Europe is an open programme. This means that research consortia are open to participation for private, public, research, educational and public bodies from all countries around the world. In fact, organisations from circa 185 countries took part in Horizon 2020 during the past seven years alone.

If one wants to develop the best products for the marketplace then one needs to co-operate with the best talent and expertise that exists within these specific fields. I welcome too the publication that was made by the European Commission today that will support the development of a common European research area (ERA). We certainly do need a higher level of mobility of researchers in an out of Europe, including from third countries. Reciprocity, transparency and openness must underpin the relationships that third countries from around the world have with the European Union on the research front.


ICT will deliver Economic Recovery.

International organisations such as the OECD, the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank all point to the economic benefits that accrue to countries from investing in basic and applied research. The EU leaders have set a target of investment into research and science at 3% GDP. This target can be achieved by fully rolling out the Horizon Europe initiative. Research, innovation and science are economic instruments.

25% of all global research @ development is carried out in Europe. This is a very strong foundation for Europe to build upon – as the EU seeks to strengthen it’s industrial sector via the use of technology.

There are many global challenges that we all must face together. Co-operation and collaboration between public and private bodies from different countries around the world is an imperative if we are to successfully and effectively tackle these grand societal challenges.

Abraham Liukang, is the chief Huawei representative to the EU institutions.


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Brexit - EU starts infringement process for UK's failure to act in good faith



As anticipated, the European Commission today (1 October) has sent the United Kingdom a letter of formal notice for breaching its obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement. This marks the beginning of a formal infringement process against the United Kingdom. It has one month to reply to today's letter.

The Withdrawal Agreement states that the European Union and the United Kingdom must take all appropriate measures to ensure the fulfilment of the obligations under the Agreement (Article 5). Both parties are bound by the obligation to cooperate in good faith in carrying out the tasks stemming from the Withdrawal Agreement and must refrain from any measures which could jeopardise the attainment of those objectives.

The UK government tabled the UK Internal Market Bill on 9 September the Commission consider this a  flagrant violation of the Protocol on Ireland Northern Ireland, as it would allow the UK authorities to disregard the legal effect of the Protocol's substantive provisions. Representatives of the UK government have acknowledged this violation, stating that its purpose was to allow it to depart in a permanent way from the obligations stemming from the Protocol.

The UK government has failed to withdraw the contentious parts of the Bill, despite requests by the European Union. By doing so, the UK has breached its obligation to act in good faith, as set out in Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Next steps

The UK has until the end of this month to submit its observations to the letter of formal notice. After examining these observations, or if no observations have been submitted, the Commission may, if appropriate, decide to issue a Reasoned Opinion.


The Withdrawal Agreement was ratified by both the EU and the UK. It entered into force on 1 February 2020 and has legal effects under international law.

Following the publication by the UK government of the draft ‘United Kingdom Internal Market Bill' on 9 September 2020, Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič called for an extraordinary meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee to request the UK government to elaborate on its intentions and to respond to the EU's serious concerns. The meeting took place in London on 10 September between Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič.

At the meeting, Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič stated that if the Bill were to be adopted, it would constitute an extremely serious violation of the Withdrawal Agreement and of international law. He called on the UK government to withdraw these measures from the draft Bill in the shortest time possible and in any case by the end of the month of September.

At the third ordinary meeting of the Joint Committee on 28 September 2020, Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič again called on the UK government to withdraw the contentious measures from the bill. The UK government on this occasion confirmed its intention to go ahead with the draft legislation.

The Withdrawal Agreement provides that during the transition period, the Court of Justice of the European Union has jurisdiction and the Commission has the powers conferred upon it by Union law in relation to the United Kingdom, also as regards the interpretation and application of that Agreement.

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EU countries test their ability to co-operate in the event of cyber attacks



EU member states, the EU Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) and the European Commission have met to test and assess their co-operation capabilities and resilience in the event of a cybersecurity crisis. The exercise, organized by the Netherlands with the support of ENISA, is a key milestone towards the completion of  relevant operating procedures. The latter are developed in the framework of the NIS Co-operation Group, under the leadership of France and Italy, and aim for more coordinated information sharing and incident response among EU cybersecurity authorities.

Furthermore, member states, with the support of ENISA, launched today the Cyber Crisis Liaison Organization Network (CyCLONe) aimed at facilitating cooperation in case of disruptive cyber incidents.

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said: “The new Cyber Crisis Liaison Organization Network indicates once again an excellent cooperation between the member states and the EU institutions in ensuring that our networks and critical systems are cyber secure. Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility and we should work collectively in preparing and implementing rapid emergency response plans, for example in case of a large-scale cyber incident or crisis.”

ENISA Executive Director Juhan Lepassaar added: "Cyber crises have no borders. The EU Agency for Cybersecurity is committed to support the Union in its response to cyber incidents. It is important that the national cybersecurity agencies come together to coordinate decision-making at all levels. The CyCLONe group addresses this missing link.”

The CyCLONe Network will ensure that information flows more efficiently among different cybersecurity structures in the member states and will allow to better coordinate national response strategies and impact assessments. Moreover, the exercise organized follows up on the Commission's recommendation on a Coordinated Response to Large Scale Cybersecurity Incidents and Crises (Blueprint) that was adopted in 2017.

More information is available in this ENISA press release. More information on the EU cybersecurity strategy can be found in these Q&A and this brochure.

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