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18 December 2020
CARE, - Healthcare

Following months of tense negotiations, on 15 December the European Parliament and the Council agreed on the terms of the 4th EU Health Programme (EU4Health), as part of the wider EU 2021-2027 budget.

The dedicated budget for health will reach 5.1bn EUR, a huge increase from the 450mil EUR allocated to the previous Health Programme (2014-2020). This is a record budget, set to steer the health priorities of the European Union in the challenging years ahead. It is also a unique opportunity to bring to reality the concept of a European Health Union, as laid out by the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during her State of the Union address last September.

Pandemic preparedness and crisis management in the spotlight

Given its heavy and global impact, the COVID-19 crisis has been decisive to set the ambition of the 4th EU Health Programme. Besides funding, this budget decision brings a strong and joint EU response who is now committed to address the vulnerabilities exposed by the pandemic, especially the coordination between national health systems and the availability of essential equipment and medicines.

Building preparedness and resilience have emerged as key goals for the 4th EU Health Programme, with an allocation of more than 600mil EUR. These goals will materialise through reserves of medical supplies in the event of health crises, a reserve for healthcare staff and experts, and increased surveillance in times of health threats.

EU to channel record funding to prevention and care

EFA is satisfied with the final agreement, including its determination to focus on policies and activities to prevent disease. Another record, disease prevention and health promotion are set to be allocated about 20% of the total budget. This is the first time that prevention is strongly resourced at the top of EU priorities on health.

Meanwhile, actions that promote access to care will also be prioritised to address existing inequalities. The availability, affordability and hence accessibility of medicines and medical devices is key in this respect, so EFA will follow how this priority will be rolled out under the newly adopted EU Pharmaceutical Strategy, in which EFA has engaged. In addition, the EU4Health programme is also promising a digital transformation of health, including the creation of a European health data space, to which we have contributed.

Greater focus on NGOs and the civil society

Finally, the programme signals an upgrade in the role of civil society organisations and public health groups. Aside from widening the scope of organisations eligible for funding under EU4Health, the agreement will introduce a new obligation to consult specialised associations and NGOs when developing annual work programmes and to present the results of these consultations to the European Parliament each year. Such positive decision has been raised by EFA in our recent evaluation to the previous EU Health Programme, and we look forward towards implementation rules that do not block funding core-activities and relevant projects by European level patient- and citizen groups.

As a member of the EU4Health Civil Society Alliance, EFA is in continuous coordination with other public health organisations to ensure that health gets the attention it deserves from EU policymakers. EFA fully endorses the letter addressed to the German presidency calling for an inclusive governance framework for EU4Health with direct, clear and meaningful participation of public interest civil society.