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Conference of the Future of Europe – Three takeaways for the future of health care

As an avid scholar of European affairs, I know something for certain: when it comes to the European Union, things are never simple. The Conference of the Future of Europe is no exception: a project aimed at allowing all European citizens to have a say in shaping the future of the Union. In the newest edition of our Brussels Background, we offer you three takeaways about the outcome of the Conference that might incite some fundamental reform and change – along with political controversy – in the European Union.

Foto: ©Shutterstock/Melinda Nagy

Why? Because it might result with the European Union being in charge of a competence that nowadays is still a prime possession of the Member States – health care. In the most far-reaching scenario, Berlin might have to share its influence on health policy with Brussels. The health care system as we know it today could be completely turned upside down if health – as the Conference recommends – really becomes more European. But let’s start at the beginning … 

Takeaway 1: It’s complicated …

Before the conference could even begin its work, the European institutions wrestled over its chairmanship, causing a year-long delay in the process – only to later compromise on a Joint Presidency of Commission, Council and Parliament. Moreover, actual citizen engagement – be it on a dedicated multilingual online platform or in various local, regional and national events – was rather low: out of all 447 million EU citizens, only 31.000 people participated in the Conference that was advertised as an “unprecedented EU-wide event”. However, there was also the European Citizen’s Forum: four panels each consisting of 200 citizens, selected based on representativity.

The combined output of these participatory tools was then later discussed in the Conference’s plenary. And voilà, on Europe Day, the Conference forwarded its report – including 49 proposals for the future of the European Union.

Takeaway 2: It’s relevant – especially for the health care industry …

According to the Conference’s final report, its proposals reflect the expectations of European citizens on a wide range of topics and among these one that interests us the most (of course!): health care. The ideas are ambitious, and the expectations are high.

One particularly interesting set of recommendations addresses the need to reduce the EU’s dependency on foreign players as well as the necessity of securing supply chains in economically strategic sectors – such as health. The Conference asks to diversify sources for raw materials and to increase the manufacture of key goods in Europe. When it comes to medicines (especially active ingredients) and medical devices, the Conference proposes the establishment of a list of essential and priority, but also innovative medicines and treatments at EU level. To ensure strategic autonomy, consideration is also given to coordinated strategic stockpiling throughout the EU.

Another key objective of the Conference’s report is a reinforcement of healthcare in the European Union. This includes the call for a “right to health” by guaranteeing all Europeans equal and universal access to affordable healthcare. Finally, these proposals lead to a potentially far-reaching conclusion: the report recommends adding health and healthcare among the shared competencies between the EU and the Member States. Yes, the report introduces the possibility of a treaty change!

Takeaway 3: It might just be the beginning …

Making health a shared competence is clearly one of the most radical and consequential proposals of the Conference of the Future of Europe. But bear in mind that decision-making processes in Europe are complicated. Treaty changes are not only politically delicate but also even more arduous as they can only be approved by unanimous vote enacted by all 27 Member States.

At this moment, treaty changes – and an even bigger European influence on health policy – are far from certain, but they cannot be completely excluded either. As former French President Jacques Chirac once aptly said: “The construction of Europe is an art. It is the art of the possible.” It will be an exciting ride to figure out the possible and we will artfully keep you posted.

Contact: Ina Koch, (BPI office Brussels)

Hinweis: Die Verwendung des Fotos ist unter der Quellenangabe Shutterstock/Conference on Europe shutterstock_Melinda Nagy und in Verbindung mit dem Brussels Background honorarfrei.