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Time for treaty changes and a joined-up approach on EU health

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1440081238665Opinion by European Alliance for Personalised Medicine Executive Director Denis Horgan

Whether or not you agree with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s on-the-record assertion that multi-culturalism “has failed, utterly failed,” there have certainly been mixed reactions across EU member states regarding the intake of refugees.

A couple of weeks ago European Union ministers approved a plan to split the burden of relocating up to 120,000 migrants awaiting placement from Greece and Italy, with each member state taking in numbers based on its economic strength, population, unemployment and the asylum applications it has passed since 2010.

The quotas were approved after overruling the votes of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.

At the time, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said: “We would have preferred to have adoption by consensus, but we did not manage to achieve that.”

Overall, this deal – and the fact that it had to be forced through – represents a fragmented EU approach to the refugee crisis. One that is mirrored in the various health services across the 28-member bloc.

Refugees aside, when it comes to the health time bomb of an ageing population of 500 million citizens, who will all be ill at some stage, the lack of a joined-up health plan across the EU, inadequate cross-border co-operation (even cross-regional in many countries), differing medicine prices and reimbursement systems, as well as huge inequalities in access for patients to the best treatments possible, it is clear that individual health systems are failing to provide for their own already-resident citizens, let alone anyone else.

Of course, the EU does not have competency for Europe-wide health – it is a member state responsibility under the subsidiarity principle and locked into the legally binding treaties – although certain regulations have had their impact: health and safety rules, clinical trials regulations and laws governing in vitro diagnostics, for example. Officially, the EU has ‘supporting competences’ in the health arena but what these add to cohesion across Europe is debatable.

 

Now Europe’s commissioner for health, Vytenis Andriukaitis, has gone on record talking about broadening the role of the EU executive when it comes to health policy.

At a conference in Riga he said: “I believe it will be nice to discuss the possibility to change the European Union treaties in the future,” with the treaties covering wider ideas. Andriukaitis added that: “I think it will be very timely to raise questions” with the European Parliament and the EU Council.

“Believe me, I can’t imagine a more economically effective possibility than to manage health issues at EU level,” the commissioner said.

 

This could represent a major shift in top-level thinking, although individual Member States would take some persuading.

One of many organisations that would need no convincing, however, is the Brussels-based European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) which has been calling for greater collaboration and cooperation in health since its foundation several years ago and whose multi-stakeholder membership has been championing a potentially greater EU role in health-related matters.

 

Personalised medicine (or ‘precision medicine’, as US president Barack Obama refers to it) uses the explosion in genetics-based science and other advances in order to give ‘the right treatment to the right patient at the right time’.

EAPM’s current Taking Stock initiatives – to culminate in its Spring 2016 conference – are looking at how far personalised medicine has come and, crucially, where it needs to go next to improve treatments, modernise clinical trials, encourage research and level the playing field when it come to access for patients.

 

For example, the Alliance believes that it is crystal clear that resources such as Big Data – crucial for ongoing research – should be collected, stored and shared in a manner that, yes, adequately protects the privacy of patients, yet is not so over-regulated that it stymies the swapping of information between Member States (and within them).

Meanwhile, it maintains that quality standards and the concept of ‘value’ (for pricing and reimbursement) need to be agreed and apply across all of the EU’s 28 countries and that the cross-border health directive needs to be properly implemented.

A European Union in which every nation does things differently in their health systems is no longer feasible and will become less so with every passing year. Genuine unification is difficult but EAPM believes it is something that must be worked towards.

At the end of the day Angela Merkel may truly believe that multi-culturalism doesn’t work, but a multi-national, EU-led health structure is a must. Fortunately, Europe is at least trying to work together to solve the refugee crisis, despite the dissenting voices, and it must now start to do so in the vast and vital arena of health.

EU

Commission launches first-ever call for journalism partnerships worth €7.6 million

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The Commission has published a €7.6 million call for journalism partnerships financed for the first time through an EU programme, Creative Europe. Grants will support cross-border collaboration among news media professionals in Europe. This first call promotes business transformation and journalistic projects – this can include the development of common technical standards, new types of newsrooms, the testing of new business models, original reporting and innovative production formats.

Values and Transparency Vice President Věra Jourová said: “It is the first time that the EU supports such journalism partnerships. It is a clear message to journalists and media actors that we stand by their side to help them address the challenges they face. Increasing and diversifying funding support goes hand in hand with our work for democracy, the rule of law and for a fairer online environment.”

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton added: “Media freedom and pluralism are key values on which our democracies stand and cannot be taken for granted. Through our Creative Europe programme, we will allocate an unprecedented budget of at least €75 million by 2027 to supporting media freedom and pluralism.”

Interested consortia can propose collaborations in a specific journalistic genre, and will operate with full editorial independence. Their projects should aim to help the wider European news media sectors, including small media. The deadline for applications for this call is 26 August 2021. Several other calls, representing close to €12m investment for European media projects, will be launched in the coming weeks, while other calls relevant for the news media sector, such as the Creative Innovation Labs, have recently been published. An upcoming webinar on this call and other funding opportunities for the news media sector can be found here, further information on current EU-funded projects in the news media sector can be found on this factsheet and an overview of the support to media freedom and pluralism is also available here. The Commission decided to strengthen its support to the media sector as part of the European Democracy and the Media and Audiovisual Action Plans.

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Equality: 12th edition of EU Access City Award open for applications

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The 12th Access City Award competition is now open for applications. The award rewards cities that have made particular efforts to be accessible and inclusive for persons with disabilities. EU cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants can apply until 8 September 2021. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners will receive prizes of €150,000, €120,000 and €80,000 respectively. Because 2021 is the European Year of Rail, the Commission will give a special mention to a city that has made outstanding efforts to make its train stations accessible for all.

Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli said: “Several cities across the EU are leading the way in creating more accessible spaces. With the EU Access City Award we reward these efforts and make them more visible. All of us have a responsibility to make Europe fully accessible. This is why accessibility is one of the priorities in the EU's new Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, presented in March.”

Last year's winner of the Access City Award was Jönköping in Sweden. The award-winners will be announced at the European Day of Persons with Disabilities conference on 3 December 2021. For more information on the award and how to apply, please visit the Access City Award 2022 webpage.

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Future of Europe plenary, migration, biodiversity

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MEPs will participate in the inaugural plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe and discuss migration and development issues. The inaugural plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe takes place on Saturday, 19 June in Strasbourg. The Conference Plenary gathers representatives from EU institutions, and national parliaments together with citizens and will develop people's proposals into recommendations for EU action. All Europeans can participate in the Conference by sharing their ideas on the multilingual digital platform, EU affairs.

Following the approval of the EU Digital COVID Certificate during last week’s plenary session, Parliament President David Sassoli signed it into law on 14 June together with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa.

conference on migration and asylum in Europe took place in the Parliament on Monday. MEPs and members of the  national parliaments discussed the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on migration and the international aspects of the EU’s approach to migration, lsuch as partnerships with non-EU countries, legal pathways for migration and integration policies.

This year the European Development Days focuses on the EU's Green Deal and creating a sustainable future. On Tuesday (15 June), Parliament's development committee organized a panel on food security and biodiversity to discuss how to preserve biodiversity and increase nutritious and diverse food in developing countries, based on local varieties and production.

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