International cooperation

International organisations

The EU cooperates with international organisations to develop, implement, and promote its public health agenda. Specific cooperation arrangements exist with:

  • The World Health Organisation (WHO)
  • The Council of Europe
  • The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

World Health Organisation (WHO) – health cooperation

Cooperation between the European Commission and WHO is based on an exchange of letters from 2001, which sets out general principles, objectives and procedures, including regular Senior Official Meetings.

In 2015, the Commission and the WHO Regional Office for Europe renewed their commitment to working together towards securing better health in Europe. They committed to maintaining and expanding cooperation on innovation, health security, health information, health inequalities, health systems, and chronic diseases. A new emphasis was placed on the importance of cross-sectoral cooperation to achieve health policy goals, and on practical ways to define and implement cooperative action.

Cooperation takes place at 3 geographic levels:

  • With the WHO Headquarters in Geneva on issues of global concern
  • With the WHO Regional Office for Europe (in Copenhagen) on European issues
  • In countries around the world (country-level cooperation).

In the area of communicable diseases the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) also works together closely with WHO on a range of issues. There are 3 levels of meetings: political, senior management and technical.

The Commission participates as an observer in annual meetings of the WHO Executive Board and the World Health Assembly in Geneva, as well as in the annual meetings of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe. In collaboration with the European External Action Service (EEAS), it works with EU countries to prepare joint statements, and to negotiate texts with other countries. In addition, it participates in the regular consultations that WHO organises, working to ensure consistency between the policies and action of both parties.

Since 2005, the Commission has been working together with WHO on a number of policy projects, with funding from the EU public health programme.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and the International Health Regulations (IHR) are important international health laws developed under the auspices of the WHO. The European Commission was closely involved in negotiations on the Convention and Health Regulations, and supports their implementation.

Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) – health cooperation

The Commission collaborates closely with the OECD on health. EU-OECD cooperation occurs regularly and includes coordination of political and research agendas. The EU is a major contributor to the OECD budget and supports mutually beneficial projects in the areas of health accounts, i.e. financial flows related to the consumption of health care goods and services, healthcare indicators and health economics.

In 2016, both organisations signed a cooperation arrangement underlining the ambition and the strategic nature of their cooperation on health. This arrangement identifies 3 mid-term priority areas:

  • Improving knowledge of health systems and how they perform by means including country-specific analysis, in particular through the State of Health in the EU initiative
  • Helping countries make their health systems more patient-centred, by means of developing new, internationally standardised and comparable measures of health service outcomes
  • Developing the capacity for economic analysis of public health and health systems, notably in the areas of public health, promotion of good health and prevention of chronic diseases, and innovation.

Council of Europe – health cooperation

Cooperation with the Council of Europe on health, boosted when the Amsterdam Treaty (Article 303) entered into force, has helped develop successful bilateral relations in areas of common interest. This includes collaborative work in areas such as pharmaceuticals, quality and safety of blood, tissues, cells and organs, and combating drug abuse.

A Joint Declaration on cooperation and partnership between the Council of Europe and the Commission was signed in 2001.