Health must be enshrined in all policy areas from economic and fiscal policy to environment. We need to encourage all sectorial ministers to be responsible in their portfolios and to keep health aspects in mind all the time
On 22 May, Dublin Castle hosted a Citizens' Dialogue with Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis. He was joined on stage by MEP Mairead McGuinness, Vice-President of the European Parliament. The lively discussion touched upon health, food safety, the situation in these policy areas after Brexit, the transparency of decision-making in the EU, the future of Europe and the possible scenarios, and division versus diversity, just to name a few.
Commissioner Andriukaitis kicked off the dialogue by drawing attention to the prevention of health issues. He underlined that supporting citizens in maintaining a long and healthy life, however, is not only up to healthcare, it is also up to other sectorial policies to fight for reducing risk factors such as tobacco, salt, and sugar etc. Many preventive health measures cost nothing, but they need strong political will, he stressed.
The first question from a participant concerned the impact of social determinants on health. Often people with a lower income or a disadvantaged background face difficulties in terms of prevention and also participation. They may face challenges in human relationships with health professionals, who may at times find it difficult to understand their problems. He asked whether the EU can support the training of health professionals to better relate to marginalised patients. In his response, the Commissioner confirmed that social determinants play an important role in health. He advocated the development of “lifestyle” medicine and supporting medical professionals in gaining better knowledge on how to address social determinants.
The discussion moved on to the complexity of decision-making at EU level. Participants asked how difficult technical details can be combined with transparency and translated into a language that can be communicated to politicians and as well as the general public. Some raised their concerns regarding the level of regulation surrounding the registration of chemicals in food, and another participant was worried about the lack of transparency of comitology procedures.
Commissioner Andriukaitis explained that the Commission is proposing to change the rules of comitology to improve transparency and democracy, so members of standing committees can vote openly. Further questions concerned the future of health in Europe. Participants wanted to know if the Commission is planning the harmonisation of health care systems across the EU. In his response, Commissioner Andriukaitis underlined that the 27 health care systems are an asset to the EU with many different models and a wealth of good practices. In addition, he stressed that health should be considered a cross-cutting policy which must be enshrined in all policy areas from economic and fiscal policy to environment.
The debate then moved on to the future of Europe. Commissioner Andriukaitis explained that the Commission would like to generate debates about the future of Europe and collect the views of citizens. Several questions followed, reflecting the participants' concerns regarding the situation after Brexit.
A participant wanted to know whether Brexit will impact food safety regulations and standards in the EU. Another participant considered Brexit to be an opportunity, but warned that in spite of the results of the recent French and Dutch elections, Euroscepticism is very much alive. She called on the EU institutions to do more to engage with those people who do not like and do not want the EU. A farmer voiced his increasing disappointment with the EU as he felt the pioneering spirit that drove the EU forward is disappearing.
A participant wanted to know whether true progress would be possible without dramatically changing the political landscape by reinforcing regional powers and diminishing the role of nation states. MEP McGuinness confirmed that Brexit has taught people to look at what the EU is actually doing, and agreed that the institutions need to reach out to those who feel the EU is far away. She also cautioned against underestimating the role of the EU in maintaining peace in Europe. We should not forget, the EU was born out of a peace project, she said. Commissioner Andriukaitis closed the debate with a passionate plea to overcome divisions and work together in tolerance, diversity and unity.
The event Dublin was part of a series of Citizens' Dialogues that involve the whole European Commission and take place in all EU Member States.