EU countries hold primary responsibility for organising and delivering health services and medical care. EU health policy therefore serves to complement national policies, and to ensure health protection in all EU policies.
EU policies and actions in public health aim to:
- Protect and improve the health of EU citizens
- Support the modernisation of health infrastructure
- Improve the efficiency of Europe's health systems.
Strategic health issues are discussed by representatives of national authorities and the European Commission in a senior-level working group on public health. EU institutions, countries, regional and local authorities, and other interest groups contribute to the implementation of the EU's health strategy.
European Commission's role
The European Commission's Directorate for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) supports the efforts of EU countries to protect and improve the health of their citizens and to ensure the accessibility, effectiveness and resilience of their health systems. This is done through various means, including by:
- Proposing legislation
- Providing financial support
- Coordinating and facilitating the exchange of best practices between EU countries and health experts
- Health promotion activities.
The EU can adopt health legislation under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union: Article 168 (protection of public health), Article 114 (approximation of laws) and Article 153 (social policy). Areas where the EU has adopted legislation include:
- Patients' rights in cross-border healthcare
- Pharmaceuticals and medical devices (pharmacovigilance, falsified medicines, clinical trials)
- Serious cross border health threats
- Organs, blood, tissues and cells.
The Council of the EU can also address recommendations on public health to EU countries.
Investing in health
The Commission promotes investing in healthas a broader means of achieving smart sustainable and inclusive growth. This takes the form of:
- Promoting effective, accessible and resilient health systems
- Investing in health through disease prevention and health promotion
- Fostering health coverage as a way of reducing inequalities and tackling social exclusion.
Instruments for co-financing
- The Health Programme provides funding to projects on health promotion, health security and health information
- The Horizon 2020 research programme supports projects in areas such as biotechnology and medical technologies
- EU cohesion policy supports investments in health in EU countries and regions
- The European Fund for Strategic Investments.
Priorities for 2016-2020
EU action in the public health area is mainly linked to incentives and cooperation measures. The European Commission has an important supporting role to play, providing guidance and tools to promote cooperation and help national systems operate more effectively. Actions focus on the following challenges:
- Achieving greater cost-effectiveness
- Competitiveness together with safety
- Tackling emerging global threats such as antimicrobial resistance
- Evidence-based policy making
- Addressing the risk factors of non-communicable diseases
- Promoting vaccination.