V-P Šefčovič takes temporary charge of health and consumer portfolio
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has entrusted the health and consumer protection portfolio to Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič on a temporary basis until a new Maltese Commissioner is appointed.
The move follows the resignation of former Commissioner John Dalli on 16 October 2012.
V-P Šefčovič has spoken to the director-general of the health and consumer protection directorate-general (DG SANCO) and to the team of former Commissioner Dalli, reassuring them of his support and encouraging them to continue with business as usual through the interim period.
In a video message to staff, he praised the work of DG SANCO, calling it "a tangible example of how Europe can bring real benefit to the lives of all 500m EU citizens". He also praised their high levels of professionalism and dedication, and stressed that their work remained unaffected by the change of Commissioner.
DG SANCO works on a wide range of issues of vital importance to the citizens of Europe, from food labelling and safety to cross-border healthcare and consumer credit.
Because it's worth it
In the current economic climate all expenditure comes under scrutiny and rightly so. The money we spend on the health of our animals is certainly no exception. We must ensure that the investment we make not only makes good business sense but must also prove its worth to our society.
The above issue was discussed this week at the EU Veterinary Week Conference entitled "The Economics of Animal Health: A Price Worth paying?". The chosen theme was both important and timely because the sector is facing immense challenges.
We must continue to invest in the health of our animals, for a number of reasons. Sick animals are unproductive animals. They produce less, cost more to feed and more to treat. We have been doing a good job in Europe and this is reflected in the very high productivity levels of our livestock. Imagine the costs if, for example, we needed to vaccinate all our animals against diseases which fortunately have been eradicated in Europe.
In addition, safe, nutritious food is a basic and universal human requirement. Animals and animal products are a key component of our diet but could also have the potential to transmit important diseases. Again, in Europe we have done a very good job and many human diseases of animal origin have been well-controlled or even eradicated.
These brief examples serve to highlight the value of the investments we have made in the EU for a high level of animal health. It is essential that a strong case for this investment continues to be made. We must be able to reassure all concerned that it's well worth the investment. That a high level of animal health contributes not only to human health and wellbeing but also to growth and prosperity in the EU.
World Heart Day 2012
Sometimes it is important to remind ourselves of the things that matter in life. Nothing matters more than our health, and few things matter more to leading a healthy life, than the most important muscle in our body, the heart.
This is why we celebrate World Heart Day, an occasion to remind ourselves of the importance of cardiac function and of the heart. This is all the more important as cardio vascular diseases are still the main cause of death in Europe - around 2 million every year - and a major cause of disability.
The good news is that about 80% of cardiovascular diseases could be prevented by addressing the many risk factors that affect heart health. These risk factors include smoking, be it active or passive, obesity and poor diet, lack of exercise, high stress levels, high blood pressure or other underlying diseases such as diabetes. This is why the focus on health promotion, addressing the risk factors and prevention is so important, and why this approach is central in EU health policy.
Our policy invests into the prevention of cardiovascular diseases in a number of ways. First, we support projects under the health programme such as the European Heart Health Strategy II, which seeks to identify the most cost effective policies to prevent cardiovascular diseases. Second, we address the major risk factors through various EU policies e.g. on nutrition and physical activity and we cooperate with EU Member States in the broad field of chronic diseases.
Commemorating the World Heart Day is an excellent occasion to remind everybody that good health is a precondition of a happy life. We all have a role to play to promote and support people in making the right choices for a healthy life.
World Alzheimer's Day
Alzheimer's is one of the biggest challenges facing us today. A staggering 35.6 million people live with dementia, with this number expected to double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia among older adults and the 5th leading cause of death for citizens aged over 65.
The problems associated with dementias and neurodegenerative diseases in Europe are fully recognised by the European Commission and it is no coincidence that the first innovation partnership in Europe, focuses on healthy and active aging.
Since we adopted a Communication on Alzheimer's in 2009, we have brought together 19 European countries in a Joint Action on Alzheimer's disease which is due to deliver its conclusions in March next year – providing knowledge that can benefit each and every Member State.
Alzheimer’s as a disease is particularly complicated. Developing new medicines for this illness is complex and getting them to the market for patients in Europe takes time.
This year, EU Member States recognised World Alzheimer's Day by organising awareness-raising activities in their countries, many of them as part of the activities programmed for the European Year of Active Aging. Under the motto "Dementia: Living together", Alzheimer associations focussed their activities this year on reducing the stigma associated with dementia and making communities more dementia-friendly by offering a range of programmes and events.
On my part I welcome the initiatives undertaken to recognise World Alzheimer's Day. Such expressions of solidarity help in facing the challenges Alzheimer's presents to us all.
As unstoppable as Barca
Every year, 700,000 people in the European Union die of diseases related to smoking. That is nearly twice the population of my home country, Malta. Europe is paying a staggering price for smoking addiction. I am keen to take action to help reduce the burden of smoking on citizens and on society as a whole.
That is why this morning I presented a partnership with Barcelona FC. The partnership, christened "Quit Smoking with Barça", brings together our two campaigns - the pan-EU "Ex-smokers are Unstoppable" and Barça's "Sense Fum" movement.
Barca's efforts on the football pitch need no introduction. They are in many aspects of their game unstoppable. With their "Sense fum" campaign they have brought the same professionalism, the same dedication that they show on the pitch, to the fight against smoking.
Today we have also launched a new smart phone app for iCoach, our online digital coaching platform that helps people stop smoking. I urge you to subscribe. Quitting is not easy but when you become an ex-smoker you achieve something remarkable, something to be proud of, something which makes you un-stoppable in everything else you do in life. Nothing can stop you, if you stop smoking.
* QR code linking to the app
Because safety matters
Making sure that our medicines are safe is a crucial contribution to public health. Patient safety has been one of my major priorities and, in July this year, new rules entered into force which considerably strengthen the safety of our medicines.
Nevertheless as a result of the recent so-called Mediator case, certain other changes were required to ensure that we can close all the gaps that were brought to light with this case. It is thus great news for patients across the EU that this week the European Parliament adopted the Commission's proposal for changes in the pharmacovigilance legislation setting out rules on the control of medicines after their approval.
It is imperative that nothing compromises the quality, safety and efficacy of our medicinal products. Our work will result in a control system that is one of the most advanced and comprehensive systems in the world and represents a robust and transparent instrument to ensure a high level of public health protection throughout the Union.
We want our citizens to continue to have trust in the safety of our medicines. I for one will continue to work to ensure that this aim is at the forefront of our policy making.
Have a worry-free Summer
Summer is upon us, and it is the time of year for most people to go on holidays. We plan them in advance and look forward to going for weeks in advance.
But even the best laid plans can sometimes go awry. A cancelled or overbooked flight, a luggage lost, a medical emergency, can sometimes turn those dreams into nightmares. This is where the European Commission comes in. The EU is working to lend a helping hand in assisting EU travellers and trying to make it easier to cope when things do go wrong.
We have provided a series of tips, which guide the traveller on what to do, amongst other things, in case of a medical emergency, which number you should call, what are your rights as a traveller if you have experienced cancellations or delays in your flight and how much you should be charged when using your mobile phone abroad. These Summer tips are available online and are a handy tool to have to hand. One always hopes for the best but being prepared is one way of having something less to worry about while on holiday!
My aim as Commissioner responsible for Health and the Consumer is to ensure that EU citizens, at all times of the year, can rest assured that their health and their safety is paramount in all that we do. These summer tips serve to illustrate how what the EU does can be of importance to the EU citizen. I hope you find them useful.
May I take the opportunity to wish everyone a lovely Summer.
Clinical Trials: Changing when there needs to be a change
Clinical trials are at the core of providing the best treatment to patients. If you listen to people whose disease could not be cured by existing treatments and who then found relief thanks to getting access to a clinical trial, you understand how important it is to keep clinical research in Europe.
In Europe, we have good legislation in place which has served its fundamental purpose of protecting those taking part in clinical trials. However, the way in which it was applied in reality, also resulted in there being less clinical trials in Europe. The legislation made the system too bureaucratic, too heavy for the small players in the clinical trials field to be able to maintain the same level.
This is why we are proposing new legislation to redress these issues. We want more clinical trials in Europe. Every citizen in Europe and, in particular, every patient will be able to access treatments with these trials with less bureaucracy and always ensuring the highest level of safety.
What we are proposing is a system which ensures better coordination and swifter approval, facilitates low risk trials, and results in an improvement in the data gathered. It will reduce administrative costs by 270 million euros annually and another 500 million euros in compliance cost. This is very important for non-industry research and SMEs, the heart of Europe's economy.
I think the proposal we have in front of us today is the right way forward. It would not have been achievable without the help of all players involved, the patient organisations, industry and, in particular, the non-commercial researchers. What we are proposing today is in line with my commitment for a patient-centred health policy that saves money for the economy and promotes better medicine for Europe's citizens.
Healthy ageing: A firm commitment towards our future
Europeans are getting older. The number of Europeans aged 65 and over will double in the next fifty years. That is a great success. But many of the years in old age are spent in illness. The challenge is to make active and healthy ageing a reality. To achieve this, we have created a partnership which brings together all stakeholders, both public (local authorities etc.) and private (hospitals, businesses etc). The idea is to work together so that new ideas, innovative technologies and best practices are quickly adopted. For example, technologies helping to treat patients out of hospital can be used successfully throughout the EU for the benefit of the patient and of the sustainability of healthcare systems.
This week we started seeing the results of this partnership. Three months ago, we invited stakeholders across Europe to come forward with proposals for specific actions. The Commission received close to 300 proposals! These proposals are commitments by stakeholders to see how technology can be used in the three areas of our action plan: (i) to prevent diseases, (ii) to care for the elderly and (iii) to allow the elderly to live independently for longer. This is a remarkable achievement. We also received in the same call, proposals for 60 reference sites i.e. existing examples of good, successful practice which can serve as inspiration to others.
These numbers look good as a statistic but when you see what this means for Europe's citizens these numbers look even better. The proposals we received mean that over 1000 municipalities and regions across the whole of the European Union and in third countries, are involved in working to find innovative solutions for better treatment for the elderly, for allowing people to stay more active and mobile and independent for longer, for better managing our health, preventing falls by older people, providing innovation for age friendly and accessible environments. From these commitments alone over 4 million European citizens will benefit directly. Indirectly we are all going to benefit!
This is what we set out to achieve - a push in the right direction that would bring change across Europe. This is the first step.
Consumer Agenda: what it means for you
The decisions that each of us makes as a consumer contribute to driving Europe's economy forward. An informed consumer, who is confident, who feels safe, who trusts the European market is the aim of my consumer policy.
This is the main focus of the Commission's Consumer Agenda. It is my strategic plan to place consumers at the heart of the policies that interest them the most in their daily lives. Policies like food, energy, transport and financial services can have a huge impact on the disposable income of Europe's citizens
. The consumer agenda also includes specific actions which we are committed to delivering to all consumers in the 27 EU countries within a strict time line, before 2014.
These actions include, for example, revising our framework for ensuring that products and food on the Single Market continue to be safe and working more closely with national authorities to ensure proper enforcement and a level playing field in which businesses can operate to deliver to consumers a wide choice of quality products and services which meet their needs.
Another aspect is improving the information and education available to the consumer. We want to equip consumers with the knowledge of their rights so that they are in the best possible position to take decisions in the market place and to make the market work for them.
Ensuring enforcement and redress is the real key for the success of consumer policy. A key element of this drive is to make it easier for consumers and businesses to settle disputes out of court and to continue our enforcement sweeps to shed light on any aspect of the market that is not functioning as it should.
We are also adapting our laws so that these are relevant in the digital age and reflect societal changes happening around us. Moreover, as it has become obvious in current times, we need to pay special attention to vulnerable consumers, like the elderly and children.
The Consumer Agenda is designed to work for the benefit of everybody. And ultimately, what is good for consumers is good for the economic future of Europe.
Keeping consumers safe
The safety of the products that we use is an issue which is close to the heart of European citizens. Europe has responded to these concerns and today we have the necessary tools to ensure that our market of half a billion consumers, are kept safe from shoddy, dangerous and unsafe products.
The main weapon in our arsenal is RAPEX, a system whereby information on unsafe goods is rapidly circulated amongst EU countries resulting in prompt action. Last year alone over one thousand eight hundred notifications were made in this system. Nearly 5 notifications per day, alerting Europe's citizens to dangerous goods ranging from appliances that could cause electric shocks to toys which pose a danger to our children, from clothes that could pose a strangulation hazard to defects in cars that we drive. Each one of these notifications has resulted in making Europe's internal market a safer place.
We may benefit from the highest product safety standards in the world but there are still products in our market which do not comply with the safety standards we set in our legislation. We cannot therefore rest on our laurels and we have to strive to improve RAPEX by improving our international partnerships to ensure safety at source and continuing to build our system of surveillance.
There is no doubt in my mind that RAPEX is an instrument which saves lives, and if people want to find an example of the value added that Europe brings, RAPEX is certainly one of the best that they could possible find.
Have you met HEIDI?
When I was asked that question I thought they were talking about the rose-cheeked girl on the Swiss Alps. I answered yes whilst trying to figure out in my head what Heidi has to do with health.
Plenty I found out. HEIDI is the acronym for Health in Europe - Information and Data Interface. It is an internet based tool, which offers patients, health professionals and anyone who is interested, the latest up-to-date data and information on health issues at European level. It allows experts to share and compare the latest sets of data in real time, across the whole of Europe. Health experts will be granted access to write in text and add comments, graphs and other information sources. It contains data on health status, determinants, diseases, health systems, trends, institutional and policy aspects - and much more.
And why is it important? The answer is simple. HEIDI brings data, comparable across Europe, to the fingertips of the people that matter. It serves to develop policies based on evidence, policies which improve the health of us all.
There is also a similarity with the fictional Heidi. In Johanna Spyri's book, she nursed her friend Clara back to health. Our own HEIDI can help us do the same, this time improving the health of all Europeans.
Reviewing the clinical trials directive
The Commission is preparing a proposal for the revision of the Clinical Trials Directive for later this year. Clinical trials are crucial to many people! They provide hope for patients and relatives; essential testing for researchers and industry to develop new medicines and treatments; are key for the creation of growth and jobs in the public health sector and; play a major role in R&D accounting for investments of over €20 billion per year in the EU.
Authorisation for approximately 4400 new clinical trials is given each year and, at any point in time, some 12 000 clinical trials are ongoing in Europe. But, worryingly, there has been almost a 15% decline in trials in the EU in recent years. Costs - resources and bureaucracy - have doubled and delays have increased by 90%. It is immensely important that we facilitate multinational clinical trials in Europe - 25% of EU trials take place in more than one Member State - not only to keep this innovative research in Europe but to guarantee state of the art cures.
There are several factors contributing to the decline of clinical trials in the EU, such as the commitment of industry to R&D, the relationship between industry and academic research, availability of investment or return on that investment. However, the bureaucracy of the process is clearly also one important factor.
So what can I as Commissioner for Health do to help? To start, the Commission can and will improve the regulatory framework and address concerns that have been voiced. We can do this by:
- Creating a simpler single portal for submission of clinical trials applications;
- Developing a faster, lighter system for assessments while maintaining patients' rights and safety and;
- Increasing cooperation between Member States.
- Ultimately, what guides us in our revision of the Directive is the best interest of patients! And, as parents, brothers, sisters or friends, this is of significance to us all.
For more information, please see the Clinical Trials page of the Directorate General for Health and Consumers:
Information to patiens
On 11 October 2011, the European Commission adopted revised proposals on information to patients about prescription-only medicines. These proposals put the patient first. It is about their right to information. It is also about ensuring better, clearer, reliable and unbiased information. And information, as we all know, leads to empowerment!
The proposals set out for the industry exactly what and how information should be provided:
- The strict ban of any direct-to-consumer advertising is maintained and clarified. That means e.g. that industry must not use television, radio or general print magazines to push information to the patients.
- Industry will be obliged to publish certain information that is particularly important for patients, such as the labelling and the package leaflet;
- Other information can only be published after it has been approved by the responsible authority.
The proposals also provided me with an opportunity to strengthen the rules on pharmacovigilance - the monitoring of the safety of medicines on the market. These changes include:
- The automatic triggering of an examination at EU-level when a Member State takes action on a medicine due to serious safety concerns. This will ensure equal safety for patients throughout the European Union.
- When a company voluntarily withdraws a medicine from the market it must explain the reason. This is to ensure appropriate follow-up and to avoid that a withdrawal is not disguised as a commercial related action when it is in fact due to safety concerns.
- Authorised medicines that require special supervision by national authorities will be included in a publicly-available list of medicines.
The proposals will now be debated once more by both the European Parliament and by the Council of Ministers. I believe in these proposals and am confident that European patients - who will benefit from the changes - will too!
The issue of animal cloning for food production
As consumers, what we eat is an important concern for EU citizens. It is crucial therefore to clarify – for consumers and for producers – the situation with regard to cloned animals and food production.
EFSA has confirmed that there is no evidence of food safety concerns regarding foods from cloned animals or their offspring. But there are other issues such as animal welfare that demand our attention. For example, cloned animals experience a number of health issues and a high death rate. Of course, these may disappear as cloning techniques improve over time. Notwithstanding, cloning plays an important role in preserving endangered species, in the production of medicines and for research.
Let me be clear. There is no cloning for food production in the European Union.
In the case of the offspring of cloned animals which are bred under the same conditions as sexually produced stock, there are no safety or animal welfare reasons to justify banning from the market place food originating from them.
Nevertheless, there are other issues which deserve examination such as the traceability of reproductive material (semen and embryos).
Therefore, the Commission has presented a proposal to temporarily suspend for five years:
- the use of the cloning technique in the EU for farming purposes;
- the imports of clones; and
- the marketing of foods from clones.
The proposal also recommends the setting up of a system to track the import of semen and embryos which would include information such as whether they stem from cloned animals or not. We will need to amend related zootechnical and animal health legislation which will allow farmers and industry to set up data banks.
Any decision we take in the future will have to be science-based and balanced and the suspension period will allow us the time to consider properly these issues. In parallel, advances will continue to take place in cloning techniques and the science available to us will continue to develop. This is good for consumers, good for science and last, but not least, good for the welfare of cloned animals.
Towards a healthier future for all European Citizens
I have participated for the first time in the well-known annual Gastein Conference where I had the opportunity to meet a wide range of health advocates, policy makers, as well as young researchers and industry representatives.
I was particularly keen to speak about "Health in Europe – Are we ready for the future?" and to exchange views on what Europe is doing today to ensure that our future generations enjoy health and benefit from the best possible healthcare.
I have my own ideal - or what you might call dream scenario - for the future of health. My ideal includes healthy ageing, less suffering from disease, healthcare for all….to name but a few. Probably the same dream that each and every EU citizen has. Of course, the difficult question is how do we get there? I believe prevention and innovation are the answers.
If Europe wants its citizens to be healthy, it must invest in innovation and technology for better diagnosis and care. E-Health for example, has the potential to save lives and provide access to diagnosis and care that would otherwise not be available. It has the potential to increase patient comfort and safety whilst at the same time making the delivery of health care more efficient and more sustainable.
We must however take the responsibility for our future into our own hands. No amount of technology will save us pain and suffering unless we make the right choices about what we eat and drink. We have the responsibility to instil this philosophy not only upon our own generation but upon future generations. Our youth need to realise that they cannot lead an unhealthy life and then expect to go on to enjoy a long and healthy retirement.
We certainly can't ignore the effects of smoking and obesity for example. Think about the illness and suffering they cause for individuals and the cost in healthcare spending for our governments. So, should we watch and do nothing? Or should we rather invest our efforts to dissuade people from smoking in the first place? The answer to these questions is clear. Investment in a smoke free today will show its return in a healthy tomorrow.
Our priority is to prevent diseases so that people live and age in good health; so that elderly citizens can be active and independent.
I am determined to do all I can to see a healthy future for all citizens, no matter where they live or how much they earn. The rewards are too high and too many to ignore: a better quality of life, a positive impact on our workforce and the competitiveness of Europe's health industry.
This is my dream for the future of healthcare in Europe and I am convinced that prevention is our best means of securing it.
Plant health is a public good
On 28 September, I opened the Plant Health Conference in Brussels together with the Belgium Minister for Agriculture, Mme. Laruelle. The event was organised by the Belgian Council Presidency and the Commission, and is an important element for our reflection on the future of EU plant health legislation.
Protecting Europe's plants – our forests, gardens, trees and the landscape we know – is not an easy task and requires a variety of measures: strict controls to prevent insects and fungi for example from entering Europe from other continents; rapid action to limit outbreaks; the use of plant protection products and; resistant varieties of plants etc.
The challenge increases as pests and germs adapt and become resistant and plant protection products are phased out as we learn more and rework our policies according to new information on food safety and environmental concerns.
To give you an example, some recent threats from non-native insects include the outbreak of long-horned beetles from Asia which is threatening our maple trees and other broad-leaved trees and the arrival of Red Palm Weevil in Mediterranean Members States which is affecting palm trees.
The potential impact is not only economical but environmental as native trees are devastated changing the face of our landscape for the future.
Once new pests arrive and settle, there is often no way back. The EU plant health regime was developed in the 1970s and still is the cornerstone for agriculture, food security and environmental protection. Any new legislation will have to take account of climate change and the effect this will have on the spread of pests. This and other concerns for the future compel us to recognise that the current framework may not provide us with the optimum level of protection which is why, in 2009, an evaluation of the current regime was launched.
Events such as the Plant Health Conference are invaluable to the Commission and to me as they provide a direct source of input from stakeholders and Member State authorities. These contacts and the results of the evaluation provide a blueprint for a new EU plant health law which we will be developing over the next two years.
It is not only our duty but in our best interests to protect and guarantee the health of our plants. We have a lot of work to do but I am confident that with the support and cooperation of stakeholders, citizens and Member State authorities we will do a good job.
Enforcing Consumers Rights
Last week I announced the results of the EU-wide sweeps on websites selling electronic goods. I am very proud as these results represent a success for the EU network of national enforcement authorities that carried out the sweeps, for European consumers and the business community alike. Overall, of 369 websites originally checked, 310 sites (84%) now comply with EU-wide consumer rules, compared with only 163 sites (44%) when these websites were first checked in May 2009. This means that consumers can now more safely operate on-line on these websites with the confidence that their rights are respected. I am looking forward to announcing equally good results next year when the sweeps on websites selling tickets for cultural and sporting events will be concluded.
As you may know, sweeps are enforcement actions led by the EU and carried out by national enforcement authorities. All Member States carry out simultaneous, coordinated checks for breaches in consumer law in a particular sector. After this initial check the national authorities contact the operators about the suspected irregularities and ask them to take corrective action. When necessary, the national authorities can also impose sanctions. The European Commission does not carry out the sweeps itself but plays a pivotal coordinating role.
The aspects on which websites can fall short of consumers' expectations often concern the presence of unfair contract terms, the provision of information about consumer rights, about prices, or about the contact details of the trader.
Thanks to the sweeps carried out by the enforcement authorities in the Member States, both consumers and businesses become more and more aware of EU consumer protection rules and the on-line environment improves to the benefit of all.
Commission and WHO step up co-operation on health: the Moscow Declaration
I am just back from Moscow, where on 13/09/10 I agreed, together with the World Health Organisation (WHO), on a joint Declaration committing the European Commission and the WHO to strengthening co-operation. I believe now more than ever, the time has come for the WHO and the Commission to join forces to address the many health challenges facing Europe today, in particular bridging health inequalities and fostering active and healthy ageing.
As the first European Commissioner to participate in such a gathering of the 53 WHO Europe countries, I am pleased to see that there is political will across the wider Europe to increasingly focus on prevention and on investing in health. I believe prevention of health problems is the pillar on which we need to build our health policy. We need to invest in prevention now. Prevention is our reserve for future delivery of healthcare.
The Declaration will enable us to plan, work together, share resources and deliver together on a joint agenda of innovation in health, fighting health threats, bridging inequalities and investing in health. I am convinced this will avoid duplication of efforts, create synergies and lead to more effective results.
I also met the Russian Health Minister to discuss co-operation between the EU and Russia on food safety and health. I have taken this opportunity to underline that the Commission is keen to deliver on the health aspects of the EU-Russia agreement and to raise two concerns. I expressed upon the Minister the need to ensure the flow of food products between the EU and Russia. In this context I stressed that a solution must be found to address difficulties for European dairy products and frozen poultry to be exported to Russia because of technical standards, which could be replaced by mutual recognition. I have also discussed with the Minister concerns related with the Russian law on pharmaceuticals, in particular as regards the level of protection of data submitted by a pharmaceutical company when requesting a market authorisation, and requirements on clinical trials.
I am convinced that my visit to Moscow has helped to foster a closer dialogue between Russia and the European Commission on food safety and public health which I intend to pursue actively in the coming years.
Working together for Health
On 29 June I met an impressive gathering of over 500 health stakeholders from all over Europe and beyond. I had invited them to come to Brussels under the motto "Together for Health" to get their views and expertise on how to ensure that all policies play their part in improving citizens' health. My objective is to improve Health for all in Europe. To do this, many players and many policies need to work closely together.
Building synergies between policies and players is particularly important now that Europe is fighting a financial crisis. I believe investment in health means investment for sustainable economic growth. A population in good health means a strong workforce, long working lives and fewer healthcare costs. This is why the decisions we make now – on health action, on health budgets - will impact upon the health and welfare of our future generations. This is particularly important in the context of population ageing, which places even greater pressure on our health systems struggling to remain sustainable.
One way to improve healthcare and stem the rising healthcare costs in the long term is to use healthcare technology in a smart and responsible manner. e-Health applications for example, can help prevent diseases, increase patient safety and improve the efficiency of health systems. Medical devices also play a key role in the diagnosis, prevention, monitoring and treatment of diseases. New and emerging technologies and therapies, such as personalised medicines, can bring considerable benefits. I am convinced that Health technology can save lives and greatly improve healthcare. And this is the reason why we need to encourage responsible innovation in Health - which pays proper regard to efficacy, safety and risk, and benefits society.
However, what I would really like to see is a Europe where citizens are so healthy that they do not need that much healthcare in the first place. Many diseases which affect people are linked to what they eat and drink, and to whether or not they exercise or smoke. Europe needs to invest more – more time, more efforts, more money - in promoting good health. Promoting good health is not just about "convincing people" to take up healthy lifestyles or about awareness-raising campaigns. It is about ensuring that people can actually make healthy choices. And this is where the need for a wide range of policies to serve health concerns comes in.
For example, we may well advise people to exercise; but if there are no parks, no walking spaces, no bicycle lanes, people do not have the choice to exercise. We can only succeed in encouraging people to exercise if there are safe and clean spaces for them to do so. For this we need healthy urban planning and transport policies. Likewise, if we want our children to develop healthy eating habits, we need education policies that include nutrition in the school curricula; and we need schools that serve healthy meals. To be healthy, our citizens need to live in healthy conditions.
Therefore Health policy is also social policy; it is environment policy; it is transport policy; it is education policy; it is research policy; it is digital policy; and many other policies. That is why we need to work, truly, together for health.
EFSA: working for Europe's consumers
On 12 March 2010 I visited the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma, Italy. It was my first visit to EFSA since I took over the Health and Consumer Policy portfolio on February 10th.
I met with EFSA's management and with experts from the Authority's Scientific Committee. During the meeting I was briefed about EFSA's work and recent activities on a series of ongoing, and often complex, issues that concern European consumers – issues such as GMOs, cloning, nutrition labelling (such as health claims) and nanotechnologies. I highlighted the importance of co-operation between the Authority and the competent Commission services and the scientific co-operation between EFSA and the Member States.
I firmly believe that safety is the most important ingredient in food and must continue to be our guiding and pervasive principle. I am also proud to note that Europe enjoys the finest and most comprehensive food safety system in the world.
EFSA is an integral partner in our efforts to ensure food safety and has now established itself as a well-respected authority, recognised for the quality of its scientific work.
Developing healthy environments for all our citizens - a major challenge
Last Friday I went to Parma in Italy to participate in the WHO Environment and Health Conference. I attach great importance to this environment and health process which brought together so many Ministers, officials and civil society to Parma. Let me tell you why.
Environmental factors can have a significant effect on citizen's health and the development of diseases. And vulnerable groups, such as children and socially disadvantaged people, can be particularly affected by such factors. This is why developing healthy environments for all our citizens must be at the heart of all our policies. We need to act to reverse the negative impact of the environment on citizens' health.
I fully welcome the key priorities agreed at this conference in the areas of climate change and socioeconomic and gender inequalities. I am particularly pleased that the Conference Declaration agreed in Parma focuses on the most vulnerable groups in society. I believe the Declaration will guide us in our efforts to progress on environment and health in Europe for the years to come. And the challenges to tackle are many. Let me give you just one example: the incidence of asthma and allergy is increasing in Europe. Some 80 million Europeans suffer from allergies; 30 million from asthma. One in every 5 children now suffers from a chronic respiratory condition. This means more suffering for those children, and more need for healthcare. We need to act.
At EU level, I will continue to tackle environment and health challenges through the Action Plan on environment and health. At global level the European Commission is fully committed to working with governments, civil society and international organisations, in particular the World Health Organization, to support the goals set out in the Parma Declaration.