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European Health Union: Commissioner Kyriakides and local leaders stress regions' and cities' essential role  

CoR members back the EU's emerging crisis-response system and initiatives to improve prevention, detection and care.

Local and regional leaders warmly welcomed comments by European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, supporting their role in implementing the European Health Union. Commissioner Kyriakides discussed with the members of the European Committee of the Regions key issues including EU's preparations for future health crises and citizens' access to care outside their country of residence.

The debate on "a Health Union for Europe and its regions" was held during the CoR's plenary on 10 October and was an opportunity for local and regional leaders to assess the progress made in building the EU Health Union (EHU), since the COVID-19 pandemic. Health policies are determined by national governments, but the pandemic laid bare the shortcomings of the existing legal framework. The EHU, across its legal acts, is giving more powers to key EU agencies and laying down rules on serious cross-border health threats, on medicines, and on digitalisation in health providing the Union with more instruments to act should a new health crisis arise.

Vasco Alves Cordeiro, President of the European Committee of the Regions, said: "The COVID-19 pandemic made it harshly clear that all levels of governance need to join forces to combat major health threats. Our citizens' well-being depends on a high level of human health protection and in two thirds of the EU Member States, cities and regions are responsible for the management of health care services. However, their key role in implementing these policies on the ground often remains unacknowledged. The European Health Union has the potential to make a real difference in the lives of people across the EU, but it can only succeed if local and regional authorities are at the centre of it."

In 19 of the 27 Member States, local and regional authorities bear the primary responsibility for the planning, organising, and delivering of healthcare services to citizens.

Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for health and food safety, ​said: “Local and regional authorities have played a crucial role in our efforts to respond to COVID-19 and I believe will be at the forefront of possible future health crises as well. They play a most important role in delivering healthcare services which are central elements of a strong European Health Union. I look forward to continue working with EUs regions and cities to deliver resilient, accessible, affordable and effective health systems across the EU.”

The Committee of the Regions across all its opinions has long called for greater recognition of the role of local and regional authorities in public health policy and for more meaningful involvement for cities and regions in policy making and implementation efforts.

The Committee supported also the regulation making it mandatory for Member States to devise their preparedness and response plans for serious health threats. The CoR – as well as the Parliament – called for greater involvement of regions in the design and delivery of such plans to fully capture cross-border dimension. The Committee expects the national governments to include regional authorities in the first round of this plan-making due to be shared with Brussels by the end of 2023. The Committee also awaits the first implementation report from the European Commission.

The CoR believes that the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Agency (HERA), one of the pillars of the European Health Union intended to strengthen the EU's ability to prevent, detect, and respond to major health threats, should work not only with the Member States but also their regions, especially in cross-border context. Resilience should underpin all policies, starting with health and civil protection. The CoR welcomes therefore the Vulnerability Dashboard, an interactive tool designed to help public authorities to assess their strengths and weaknesses. The Dashboard, requested by the CoR, is now hosted and further developed by the EU Joint Research Centre.

Most recently, the CoR accepted a Council Presidency referral on "The role of cities as health promoters" and the opinion by rapporteur Adam Banaszak (PL/ECR) was adopted in the NAT commission on 5 October.

The CoR collaborates closely with a whole range of non-government organisations active in the field of public health. Since 2016, the Committee has worked with the UN WHO Regional Office for Europe, connecting local and regional health policy and practice with a global health vision.

Background information:

The first initiatives towards the European Health Union were launched by the European Commission in November 2020. Drawing on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, its goal was to strengthen the EU's health security preparedness and to bolster key EU agencies' crisis response. It included three legislative acts: one on serious cross-border health threats, one on new mandates for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and one on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The Health and Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) that was proposed a year later was designed to complement the Health Union.

In the current political mandate alone, the CoR has adopted the following opinions: "Regulation on the European Health Data Space" by rapporteur Daniela Cîmpean (RO/EPP); "Health Emergency preparedness and Response Authority " by rapporteur Christophe Clergeau (FR/PES); "Europe's Beating Cancer Plan", "A pharmaceutical strategy for Europe and legislative proposal for changing the mandate of the European Medicines Agency (EMA)", and "EU Health Emergency Mechanism" all by rapporteur Birgitta Sacrédeus (SE/EPP); "Cross-border health threats and the mandate of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control" by rapporteur Olgierd Geblewicz (PL/EPP); "European Health Union: Reinforcing the EU’s resilience" by rapporteur Roberto Ciambetti (IT/ECR); and "Cross-border health care" by rapporteur Karsten Uno Petersen (DK/PES).

Factsheet: "A European Health Union: tackling health crises together – The role of EU agencies"

Find out more on the European Health Data Space

Background material: The plenary agenda and opinions and amendments.

Webstreaming: On the website of the CoR.


Wioletta Wojewodzka

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