Brussels role in health is secure, says EU health chief

06 Jun 2017 | News

“Is there any discussion about DG Sante’s continued future? The answer is simply no,” says EU Commission’s Director General for Health and Food Safety Xavier Prats Monné

The European Commission’s director general for health and food safety, Xavier Prats Monné, has said the EU will not step back from health, and reaffirmed the bloc’s wide role in drugs, disease control, the environment and food policy areas.

Rumours of a rollback of EU involvement in health started flying in March after the Commission published a white paper, ‘The Future of Europe’ in which one scenario depicts public health as an area of "limited added value."

In an interview with Science|Business however, Prats Monné said the white paper does not put forward any proposal on health - or on any other policy area, for that matter: on the contrary, he said, “It is an invitation to member-states and citizens to reflect on possible scenarios for the future of Europe. In fact, there is a broad consensus among governments that Brussels should continue to fulfill its responsibilities across a broad canvas of policy areas, and it would be difficult to claim that Europe cares about its citizens but does nothing about their health or the safety of their food.”

He added, “We play a big part in preventing and managing crises; food safety; innovation in ehealth, and helping countries find out what parts of their health systems work best. Is there any discussion about DG Sante’s continued future? The answer is simply no.”

Prats Monné said the EU would continue to authorise drugs through the European Medicines Agency and promote cooperation among healthcare specialists via the European Reference Networks.

The white paper that caused the anxiety was published to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the EU, with the aim of starting a debate about how the EU27 should shape the union for the future.

It sets out five potential paths, posing the question of what challenges member states should tackle together, and what added-value EU instruments can provide for them to do so.

The five options include narrowing the EU’s focus down to the single market alone, or creating a multispeed Europe where countries integrate on specific topics of mutual interest. Another envisions a rollback of European powers, ending efforts to promote integration in areas such as regional development, public health, employment and social policy.

Prats Monné says the white paper initiates a “period for reflection”. The exercise is also seen as an attempt to shift more responsibility for decisions to governments, with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urging member states to “stop bashing the EU.”

“But there is no special urgency or attention to any one sector in there,” said Prats Monné. “The question we are asked to reflect on is: ‘Is there EU added value’? It’s the question everyone should be asking themselves, including health.”

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