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#EAPM - Commission, committees and the cancer mission: #PHC

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Greetings, colleagues, ahead of this first weekend in July. It’s been an interesting month already, with a surprise package emerging from the European Council in the form of Ursula von der Leyen’s nomination to replace Jean-Claude Juncker at the head of the Commission, some questionable behaviour and comments from the Brexit Party during the European Parliament’s opening in Strasbourg, and Donald Trump,while presumably saying  “don’t rain on my parade”, getting his tanks and fireworks wet, anyway, writes European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) Executive Director Denis Horgan.

Meanwhile, the members of the ENVI committee and others have been confirmed - important for EAPM and its stakeholders going forward.

On the lightest of light notes, it turns out that Silvio Berlusconi’s parliamentary mailbox is next to that of MEP Massimo Casanova. Well, well, well…

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Splits on Spitz…

Although Commission President-elect von der Leyen comes from the winning group in the European elections, she was never put in front of the public (or even her own party) as a 'Spitzenkandidat'.

Parliament has said it won't endorse anyone who has not gone through that process, so there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth at the fact that this young 'system' has been so ruthlessly nipped in the bud - notably by France's Emmanuel Macronand Hungary's Viktor Orbán.

Will the EP vote for von der Leyen? The smart money is on ‘yes’, but it won't like it.For example, Germany's powerful Green Party is threatening to torpedothe nomination.  

"It's an unparalleled act of political trickery," said Sigmar Gabriel, a big namein Germany's centre-left SPD and former party leader.

He has called on his party, which runs Germany with Angela Merkel's centre-right party, to block the nomination.Time will tell…

Meanwhile, as expected, Italy got the Parliament presidency for the next two-and-a-half years, in the shape of David Sassoli, which was a no-brainer given that Germany, France and Spain got three of the other top jobs up for grabs.

Sassoli is a former journalist and broadcaster and, in Italy, a person’s political affiliation the centre-left in thiscase - remains important in a career. Apparently, even the afore-mentionedBerlusconi respected him.

Working together

Now, as we draw ever closer to knowing the make-up of the next Commission, and we already know the Parliament, it’s time for all the powers-that-be to accept the importance of health care to the EU population, put political colour and hue aside, and cooperate for the next five years in order to bring the best treatments and medicines to the citizenry.

The right treatment, for the right patient at the right time, in fact.

We’ve seen recent good signs regarding the need and desire for co-operation - not least in areas such as rare disease reference networks, EU-wide HTA, electronic health record and e-Prescription sharing, and the Declaration on the one-million genomes project.

Yet these are still relatively early days for the EU getting properly involved in healthcare - given member state competence - although it has plunged into the pool with over-arching legislation in areas such as cross-border healthcare, IVDs, clinical trials, data protection and so on.

What is required now is an acknowledgement at the highest EU levels that health is a priority and, while it crosses many areas such as employment, the digital market, data sharing, AI and more, there needs to be a cohesive policy that brings all elements together to produce more-and-more tangible results.

It is a view held by many that President Juncker missed a trick by failing to acknowledge health care as priority, but von der Leyen has trained in medicine and public health, so the hope is that by giving healthcare its due importance, she and her team may well find themselves closer to the wishes of European citizens.

Hopefully, the incoming president is au fait with the advances and opportunities brought about by personalised medicine, as this is clearly an important way forward.

The person has to be atthe heart of his or her health care, a concept long championed by EAPM, and some of those at the political and policy level are grasping this. (Hat-tips here to DG Connect which has done superb work in the digital health sector to position the EUas a world leader, as well as DG SANTE and DG Research.)

However, while the potential for vast forward movement in healthcare clearly exists, as we enter a new five-year cycle there is a need for more public/private investment, better stakeholder co-operation, and continued support from the Commission to persuade and thus empower member states to work together.

As the new Parliament and Commission perform their work down the line, rest assured that EAPM will miss no opportunity to engage officials and MEPs to this end.

Game of thrones

The European Parliament committees will, next week,elect their chairs during meetings in Brussels.

As we’ve mentioned before, the favourite to head the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) committee is Frenchman Pascal Canfin (of Macron’s Renew Europe group). Canfin has pledged to unite mainstream parties in the fight against climate change.

ENVI will boast at least three former health ministers this term -Bartosz Arłukowicz (a paediatrician) and his predecessor Ewa Kopacz (both held the health portfolio in Warsaw), as well as Spains former Health Minister Dolors Montserrat.

Indeed, ENVI can boast a ‘healthy’ spread as PortugalSara Cerdasis a former internal medicine physician and ex-swimming champion (according to Politico), while Germanys Renew Europe MEP Andreas Glückis a surgeon.

Meanwhile, Romanian Adina-Ioana Vălean, a supporter of EAPM’s STEPs Group of MEPs, looks poised to become chair of the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) committee. Shew as head-honcho of the environment committee from 2017-2019. 

Mission:Possible

Horizon Europe’s cancer mission is looking towards a virologist and Nobel Prize winner to get things off the launch pad in respect of its big-money cancer research mission.

Germany’s Harald zur Hausen is the main man, and will become chairman of the mission board on cancer.

Back in 1976, zur Hausen made a research break through when he discovering the human papillomavirus. This is one of the first viruses identified as a cause of cancer and spawned the adoption of a widespread vaccination programme.

The Commission plans to fund the cancer mission (and others)as part of proposed 83 billion, seven-year research programme, but delivering results is key. The EU Executive says that the missions are a way to make a real difference to citizenslives, but thereare concerns that they mayget hijacked by the interests of big business.

Mariana Mazzucato, an economist at University College London and the Commissions adviser on its mission plans, wrote in a report out this week: “Public consultations that feed into the definition of mission proposals need to be designed in such a way to avoid capture by vested interests.”

So, ‘hands off our cash’ is the clear message.

Belgium

Cars and pavements washed away as Belgian town hit by worst floods in decades

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The southern Belgian town of Dinant was hit by the heaviest floods in decades on Saturday (24 July) after a two-hour thunderstorm turned streets into torrential streams that washed away cars and pavements but did not kill anyone, writes Jan Strupczewski, Reuters.

Dinant was spared the deadly floods 10 days ago that killed 37 people in southeast Belgium and many more in Germany, but the violence of Saturday's storm surprised many.

"I have been living in Dinant for 57 years, and I've never seen anything like that," Richard Fournaux, the former mayor of the town on the Meuse river and birthplace of the 19th century inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, said on social media.

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A woman works to recover her belongings following heavy rainfall in Dinant, Belgium July 25, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron
A woman walks in an area affected by heavy rainfall in Dinant, Belgium July 25, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

Rainwater gushing down steep streets swept away dozens of cars, piling them in a heap at a crossing, and washed away cobbles stones, pavements and whole sections of tarmac as inhabitants watched in horror from windows.

There was no precise estimate of the damage, with town authorities predicting only that it would be "significant", according to Belgian RTL TV.

The storm wreaked similar havoc, also with no loss of life, in the small town of Anhee a few kilometres north of Dinant.

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Czech Republic

NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Czechia's €7 billion recovery and resilience plan

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The European Commission has today (19 July) adopted a positive assessment of Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €7 billion in grants under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). This financing will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. It will play a key role in helping Czechia emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RRF is at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. The Czech plan forms part of an unprecedented co-ordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis, to address common European challenges by embracing the green and digital transitions, to strengthen economic and social resilience and the cohesion of the Single Market.

The Commission assessed Czechia's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Commission's analysis considered, in particular, whether the investments and reforms set out in Czechia's plan support the green and digital transitions; contribute to effectively addressing challenges identified in the European Semester; and strengthen its growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience.

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Securing Czechia's green and digital transition  

The Commission's assessment of Czechia's plan finds that it devotes 42% of its total allocation to measures that support climate objectives. The plan includes investments in renewable energy, the modernisation of district heating distribution networks, the replacement of coal-fired boilers and improving the energy efficiency of residential and public buildings. The plan also includes measures for nature protection and water management as well as investment in sustainable mobility.

The Commission's assessment of Czechia's plan finds that it devotes 22% of its total allocation to measures that support the digital transition. The plan provides for investments in digital infrastructure, the digitalization of public administration, including the areas of health, justice and the administration of construction permits. It promotes the digitalisation of businesses and digital projects in the cultural and creative sectors. The plan also includes measures to improve digital skills at all levels, as part of the education system and through dedicated upskilling and reskilling programmes.

Reinforcing Czechia's economic and social resilience

The Commission considers that Czechia's plan effectively addresses all or a significant subset of the economic and social challenges outlined in the country-specific recommendations addressed to Czechia by the Council in the European Semester in 2019 and in 2020.

The plan provides for measures to tackle the need for investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, sustainable transport and digital infrastructure. Several measures aim at addressing the need to foster digital skills, improve the quality and inclusiveness of education, and to increase the availability of childcare facilities. The plan also provides for improving the business environment, mainly through extensive e-government measures, a reform of the procedures of granting construction permits and anti-corruption measures. Challenges in the area of R&D shall be improved by investment geared at strengthening public-private cooperation and financial and non-financial support to innovative firms.

The plan represents a comprehensive and adequately balanced response to Czechia's economic and social situation, thereby contributing appropriately to all six pillars referred to in the RRF Regulation.

Supporting flagship investments and reform projects

The Czech plan proposes projects in all seven European flagship areas. These are specific investment projects which address issues that are common to all member states in areas that create jobs and growth and are needed for the twin transition. For instance, Czechia has proposed €1.4bn to support the energy efficiency renovation of buildings and €500 million to boost digital skills through education and investments in upskilling and reskilling programmes for the entire labour force.  

The Commission's assessment finds that no measure included in the plan does any significant harm to the environment, in line with the requirements laid out in the RRF Regulation.

The arrangements proposed in the recovery and resilience plan in relation to control systems are adequate to prevent, detect and correct corruption, fraud and conflicts of interests relating to the use of funds. The arrangements are also expected to effectively avoid double funding under that Regulation and other Union programmes. These control systems are complemented by additional audit and control measures contained in the Commission's proposal for a Council Implementing Decision as milestones. These milestones must be fulfilled before Czechia presents its first payment request to the Commission.

President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Today, the European Commission has decided to give its green light to Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. This plan will play a crucial role in supporting a shift towards a greener and more digital future for Czechia. Measures that improve energy efficiency, digitalize public administration and deter the misuse of public funds are exactly in line with the objectives of NextGenerationEU. I also welcome the strong emphasis the plan places on strengthening the resilience of Czechia's health-care system to prepare it for future challenges. We will stand with you every step of the way to ensure that the plan is fully implemented.

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Czechia's recovery and resilience plan will provide a strong boost to the country's efforts to get back its feet after the economic shock caused the pandemic. The €7bn in NextGenerationEU funds that will flow to Czechia over the next five years will support a wide-ranging programme of reforms and investments to build a more sustainable and competitive economy. They include very sizeable investments in building renovation, clean energy and sustainable mobility, as well as measures to boost digital infrastructure and skills and the digitalisation of public services. The business environment will benefit from the promotion of e-government and anti-corruption measures. The plan will also support improvements in healthcare, including reinforced cancer prevention and rehabilitation care.”

Next steps

The Commission has today adopted a proposal for a Council Implementing Decision to provide €7bn in grants to Czechia under the RRF. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposal.

The Council's approval of the plan would allow for the disbursement of €910m to Czechia in pre-financing. This represents 13% of the total amount allocated to Czechia.

An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “This plan will put Czechia on the path to recovery and boost its economic growth as Europe gears up for the green and digital transitions. Czechia intends to invest in renewable energy and sustainable transport, while improving the energy efficiency of buildings. It aims to roll out greater digital connectivity across the country, promote digital education and skills, and digitalize many of its public services. And it places a welcome focus on improving the business environment and justice system, backed by measures to fight corruption and promote e-government – all in a balanced response to the Czech economic and social situation. Once put properly into practice, this plan will help to put Czechia on a sound footing for the future.”

The Commission will authorize further disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of the milestones and targets outlined in the Council Implementing Decision, reflecting progress on the implementation of the investments and reforms. 

More information

Questions and answers: European Commission endorses Czechia's recovery and resilience plan

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Questions and answers

Factsheet on Czechia's recovery and resilience plan

Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Czechia

Annex to the Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Czechia

Staff-working document accompanying the proposal for a Council Implementing Decision

Recovery and Resilience Facility

Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation

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Belgium

Death toll rises to 170 in Germany and Belgium floods

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The death toll in devastating flooding in western Germany and Belgium rose to at least 170 on Saturday (17 July) after burst rivers and flash floods this week collapsed houses and ripped up roads and power lines, write Petra Wischgoll,
David Sahl, Matthias Inverardi in Duesseldorf, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt and Bart Meijer in Amsterdam.

Some 143 people died in the flooding in Germany's worst natural disaster in more than half a century. That included about 98 in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, according to police.

Hundreds of people were still missing or unreachable as several areas were inaccessible due to high water levels while communication in some places was still down.

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Residents and business owners struggled to pick up the pieces in battered towns.

"Everything is completely destroyed. You don't recognise the scenery," said Michael Lang, owner of a wine shop in the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler in Ahrweiler, fighting back tears.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Erftstadt in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the disaster killed at least 45 people.

"We mourn with those that have lost friends, acquaintances, family members," he said. "Their fate is ripping our hearts apart."

Around 700 residents were evacuated late on Friday after a dam broke in the town of Wassenberg near Cologne, authorities said.

But Wassenberg mayor Marcel Maurer said water levels had been stabilising since the night. "It's too early to give the all-clear but we are cautiously optimistic," he said.

The Steinbachtal dam in western Germany, however, remained at risk of breaching, authorities said after some 4,500 people were evacuated from homes downstream.

Steinmeier said it would take weeks before the full damage, expected to require several billions of euros in reconstruction funds, could be assessed.

Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and the ruling CDU party's candidate in September's general election, said he would speak to Finance Minister Olaf Scholz in the coming days about financial support.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to travel on Sunday to Rhineland Palatinate, the state that is home to the devastated village of Schuld.

Members of the Bundeswehr forces, surrounded by partially submerged cars, wade through the flood water following heavy rainfalls in Erftstadt-Blessem, Germany, July 17, 2021. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen
Austrian rescue team members use their boats as they go through an area affected by floods, following heavy rainfalls, in Pepinster, Belgium, July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

In Belgium, the death toll rose to 27, according to the national crisis centre, which is co-ordinating the relief operation there.

It added that 103 people were "missing or unreachable". Some were likely unreachable because they could not recharge mobile phones or were in hospital without identity papers, the centre said.

Over the past several days the floods, which have mostly hit the German states of Rhineland Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia and eastern Belgium, have cut off entire communities from power and communications.

RWE (RWEG.DE), Germany's largest power producer, said on Saturday its opencast mine in Inden and the Weisweiler coal-fired power plant were massively affected, adding that the plant was running at lower capacity after the situation stabilized.

In the southern Belgian provinces of Luxembourg and Namur, authorities rushed to supply drinking water to households.

Flood water levels slowly fell in the worst hit parts of Belgium, allowing residents to sort through damaged possessions. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited some areas on Saturday afternoon.

Belgian rail network operator Infrabel published plans of repairs to lines, some of which would be back in service only at the very end of August.

Emergency services in the Netherlands also remained on high alert as overflowing rivers threatened towns and villages throughout the southern province of Limburg.

Tens of thousands of residents in the region have been evacuated in the past two days, while soldiers, fire brigades and volunteers worked frantically throughout Friday night (16 July) to enforce dykes and prevent flooding.

The Dutch have so far escaped disaster on the scale of its neighbours, and as of Saturday morning no casualties had been reported.

Scientists have long said that climate change will lead to heavier downpours. But determining its role in these relentless rainfalls will take at least several weeks to research, scientists said on Friday.

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