Newsletter 218 - The European Social Fund Plus

Health-EU Newsletter 218 - Focus

Health and Social issues – always entwined, and now funded through the same programme

Ms Andriana Sukova, Deputy Director-General from DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion discusses with Mr Martin Seychell, Deputy Director-General for health from DG Health and Food Safety, the proposal for the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) Regulation, adopted by the Commission on 30 May 2018 with the intention of building a more resilient and inclusive 'Social Europe' for all citizens. The programme invests in Europe's most valuable resource – its people. Previously the European Social Funds primarily focused on employment, social inclusion, skills, and education, but the 'plus' includes a 'Health Strand' through which 413 million Euros will be available for health spending.

Why is the health budget now part of a social funding instrument?

Ms Sukova: The European Pillar of Social Rights serves as a compass and framework for investments under ESF+ post 2020 and includes a principle on health: everyone has the right to timely access to affordable, preventive and curative health care of good quality. Besides, health and social issues are closely related. Socio-economic status is the most important determinant of health – people with low incomes and low levels of education are still, today, at greatest risk for health problems. A key element of health and social policies is addressing inequalities. Just as social status impacts health, health impacts social issues like employment and family and community engagement and the economy.

Mr Seychell: The EU needs a healthy active population to keep the economy strong and build for the future, and with the challenge of an ageing population especially, prevention and health promotion are vital to making sure that health systems are sustainable and not overburdened in the future.

Ms Sukova: The inclusion of the health programme as a strand of ESF+ is to make sure that, wherever relevant, health aspects are addressed in all social spending, and vice versa. Of course, this also reflects the key position that health occupies in the European Pillar of Social Rights.

What will happen to the Commission's previous main funding instrument for health, the Health Programme?

Mr Seychell: The former Health Programme has been embedded into the ESF+ through a dedicated budget of € 413 million for the health strand. The implementation of the health strand will remain under the sole authority of the Commissioner for Health, and all operational aspects will be managed by the Directorate General for Health and Food Safety.

Ms Sukova: The health strand will be implemented through Work Programmes following consultations with Member States. We plan that the Steering Group on Health Promotion and Diseases Prevention will be the central 'hub' for consulting health authorities of Member States on all matters of health related spending in the ESF+ as well as under the Horizon Europe (FP9) and Digital Europe programmes, in order to provide health authorities with a much better overview of health related spending than ever before.

Does this mean that the Directorate General for Health and Food Safety will be working more closely with other DGs?

M. Seychell: Yes, and this closer collaboration is what was intended by the Commission's shift towards a 'Health in all Policies' approach. Just as a holistic approach to medicine involves looking at everything that influences a patient's health and not just one particular symptom, the Health in all Policies approach looks at how health impacts and is influenced by other factors that are the responsibility of other Directorate Generals. The connection between research and health might be obvious, but education, agriculture, investment, equal opportunities, the environment and many other factors influence health and health greatly impacts them. Ultimately, closer coordination and consistency will maximise the impact of EU actions, to the benefit of EU citizens.