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BLOG: Is there a future for health at EU level?

Might we see the end of DG SANTE?

Many in the Brussels arena fear for the future end of the Directorate General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) in favour of a broader ‘health in all policies’ approach. The turmoil seems to originate from rumours caused and amplified by a wary communication and mixed signals from EU officials on health policies.


Would we miss DG SANTE?

DG SANTE find its origins in the “mad cow disease” crisis in 1996. This caused on-going reorganisation of scientific advice and food safety policy-making and led to a centralisation of all health issues. Twenty years later, these reorganisations seem to be unfinished and tend more towards a decentralisation of health issues. The main question is what would be the consequences for health in Europe and how any devaluation can be countered. Civil society organizations are already reacting to a possible end of DG SANTE and will soon be launching an awareness campaign, including discussions with European institutions and Member States. 


Putting health on the agenda

The positive impact of DG SANTE on health issues mainly lies in its coordinating role. DG SANTE ensures that health topics are well represented in European cooperation programmes such as the European Reference Networks or research funding such as H2020. Furthermore the 15-year-old EU Health programme, although a small budget in EU terms (about € 100 million a year), financially supports many health NGOs. By guaranteeing their independence of opinion, this programme creates a great instrument to empower civil society and maintain a balanced approach when it comes to policy issues relevant for patients and healthcare in Europe.

What would the consequences be if these health policies are also transferred to another Directorate? Schuttelaar & Partners recently carried out a regulatory audit on obesity, a health issue that would benefit very much from cross sectorial initiatives. Initiatives that are under the lead of another directorate, such as the EU school milk programme of DG AGRI, set health only as a secondary objective.


Lack of mandate hinders impact

Independently from the EU structure for health policies, we should question how the EU mandate for health policies can become more effective? Nowadays, the EU Member States do not want to give up their responsibility for formulating and implementing health policy and delivering healthcare services. However, many health issues such as ageing population, increased chronic diseases and antimicrobial resistance are cross-border and demand for a common approach.