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Prioritising health in EU policy for a resilient future

Health / OP-ED
Danielle Brady

Date: 29/05/2024
Drawing on lessons learnt during the pandemic, the EU must commit to putting health and societal well-being at the centre of policymaking – only then can a healthier, more resilient Europe take shape.

As the European Parliament elections draw near, extensive deliberations are ongoing regarding the priorities for the next legislative period. Against the backdrop of permacrisis – the Russian war in Ukraine, war in the Middle East, the climate crisis and the cost of living crisis – policy trade-offs will inevitably occur.

Permacrisis is not a new phenomenon; the current mandate has been shrouded in challenges from the outset, including, among others, the COVID-19 pandemic. With the new mandate approaching, it is crucial to integrate the lessons learned from the pandemic, which highlighted the link between the well-being of populations, the strength of the European Union's economy, resilient supply chains, and the potential drawbacks of dependencies on other parts of the world. The achievements of the vaccine strategy and the increased capacity in pharmaceutical production within the EU further underscored the benefits of a more synchronised and collaborative EU response in the field of health. 

Key to this was the political prioritisation afforded to health and health policy at the EU level. MEPs in the next parliament should not be too quick to forget the importance of health for the functioning of our economies and societies. The establishment of the Subcommittee on Public Health (SANT) was hailed as a significant milestone in the current mandate, recognising the importance of health policy within the Parliament. This elevation of health's status is crucial for maintaining momentum and displaying the Parliament’s leadership on health as we navigate beyond the pandemic. However, it is imperative for Parliament to prevent the creation of the SANT committee from inadvertently fostering more silos in policymaking.

The pandemic highlighted the link between health and other policy areas such as industrial policy, research and innovation, and artificial intelligence. The notion of health in all policies should be central to policymaking as we move towards 2030, the target year for the accomplishment of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. To achieve these ambitions, recognising the interconnectedness of policy silos and understanding that human and planetary health underpin society is crucial.

Policymakers (including MEPs) should endeavour to shift towards a more holistic policymaking approach. The well-being economy approach offers a framework in which to do this, providing guiding principles to enhance EU policymaking and promoting a thorough and systematic evaluation of decision impacts, taking into account economic considerations and the interconnectedness of the economy, society and the environment. This approach facilitates improved recognition, evaluation and elucidation of policy trade-offs.

Adopting a holistic perspective, integrated policy design and a long-term outlook prevents shortsighted, patchwork reactions that could lead to adverse future consequences. Instead, it fosters the identification of mutually beneficial solutions. Embracing this approach would positively impact health by integrating it as a key factor in policymaking, leading to improved outcomes for individuals and populations. By placing a strong emphasis on health within policy frameworks, policymakers can enact measures address immediate health concerns and promote long-term wellbeing and resilience.

However, this requires political will and courageous leadership. The upcoming mandate and the new Parliament offer a crucial chance for political leaders to showcase their commitment to prioritising health and societal wellbeing in policymaking. By championing a more holistic vision, they can contribute to building healthier, more resilient communities and societies for the future.

This is an op-ed first published in Parliament Magazine

Danielle Brady is Policy Analyst for the Social Europe and Wellbeing programme. Her interests include EU health and social policies.

The support the European Policy Centre receives for its ongoing operations, or specifically for its publications, does not constitute an endorsement of their contents, which reflect the views of the authors only. Supporters and partners cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

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