Europe 2020 – for a healthier EU

Promoting good health is an integral part of Europe 2020, the EU's 10-year economic-growth strategy. More specifically, health policy is important to Europe 2020's objectives for smart and inclusive growth because:

  • keeping people healthy and active for longer has a positive impact on productivity and competitiveness
  • innovation can help make the healthcare sector more sustainable and find new cures for health conditions
  • the healthcare sector has an important role to play in improving skills and creating jobs as it employs 1 in 10 of the most qualified workers in the EU
  • with a projected 45% increase in the number of people aged 65 and over in the next 20 years, financing rising healthcare costs and access to a dignified and independent life for the aging population will be central to the political debate.

Of the 7 EU2020 flagship initiatives, the 4 most relevant to public health are:

  • Innovation Union
  • Digital agenda for Europe
  • Agenda for new skills and jobs
  • European platform against poverty

Innovation Union

The Innovation Union aims to maximise the EU's capacity for innovation and research and channel it towards societal challenges. The European Commission's aim is to make Europe a world-leader in developing innovative ways to promote active and healthy ageing – a challenge common to all European countries.

A pilot European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing was launched in 2011. Its main objective is to increase the average healthy lifespan in the EU by two years by 2020. In doing so it aims to:

  • enable older EU citizens to lead healthy, active and independent lives ;
  • improve the sustainability and efficiency of social and healthcare systems;
  • boost and improve the competitiveness of the markets for innovative products and services that respond to the ageing challenge both at EU and global level, thus creating new opportunities for businesses.

A Digital Agenda for Europe

The Digital Agenda for Europe focuses on developing and using digital applications. Under the banner ICTs for social challenges, the Agenda includes plans to improve the quality of care, reduce medical costs and foster independent living among people who are sick and disabled.

Four key actions relate to health:

An Agenda for new skills and jobs

The Agenda for New Skills and Jobs will help to highlight the economic role of mental health and the health of the workforce. This should result in improved working conditions and workplaces that prioritise the health and well-being of their employees, thus reducing health inequalities, workforce shortages and absenteeism. The EU is also supporting research into the growing incidence of mental illnesses in the work place.

A large-scale review of health-in-the-workplace legislation is also underway, and should be completed by 2014:

  • Currently under review: legislation on working time and the posting of workers
  • Future priorities: review of directives dealing with:
    • electro-magnetic fields,
    • carcinogens and mutagens,
    • musculoskeletal disorders,
    • environmental tobacco smoke, and
    • risks associated with nano-materials.

By 2012, the European Commission will also have developed an action plan to address the shortage of health workers in cooperation with the EU countries. The action plan will be accompanied by a Joint Actionunder the Health Programme on forecasting health workforce needs and workforceplanning.

The European Platform against Poverty

The European Platform against Poverty has aims to ensure economic and social cohesion with a target: to lift at least 20 million Europeans out of poverty by 2020. One way the Commission will contribute is by boosting efforts on health promotion and prevention with a focus on reducing health inequality.

It will develop innovative and sustainable financing of health-related services for older people. It will also support community-based responses to needs such as social care for the elderly, children's health and global health threats.

As a follow-up to its Communication on "Solidarity in Health: reducing health inequalities in the EU", the EU will:

  • help EU countries and stakeholders to identify what works best and how to put this into practice
  • regularly produce statistics and report on the scope of inequality in the EU and on successful strategies to reduce it
  • improve its procedures to evaluate the impact of its policies on health inequality and help reduce it, where possible
  • help countries to use EU funds to improve the health of the worst off and reduce inequality in health between regions – for example, primary care facilities, water and sanitation, and housing renewal.

A first progress report will be produced in 2012.