David Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection

In order to build a Europe of Health, action should be taken in a number of important areas, for example, in the context of communicable diseases and the threat of bioterrorism, says EU Commissioner David Byrne.

In your view, what impact will enlargement and the coming intergovernmental conference have on European health policy?

Fewer barriers to European or global interaction also means fewer barriers to disease. An enlarged European Union will bring greater need to respond to consequent health risks like communicable diseases. We need to assess what may be necessary in the text of the Constitution to achieve a high level of health as an objective, and in particular how far Article 152 of the current Treaty should be adapted accordingly. The European Council asked to prepare adequate European capacity to deal with communicable diseases. But under Article 152, whilst the Union can take some steps to improve surveillance and monitoring, this provision does not grant the power to co-ordinate responses. In the event of a major threat to health occurring in the Union, it would be difficult to explain to the public why no safeguard measures were put in place on EU level.

Which more radical changes relating to health policy would you support?

We need to build a Europe of Health. There are a number of important developments, for example in the context of communicable diseases and the threat of bioterrorism, where Member States acting alone cannot adequately meet the challenge and where action at EU level is limited. However, this does not effect the fact that Member States are responsible for their healthcare systems and will continue to do so.

Based on the UN’s “World Population Prospects”, life expectancy in Europe will rise to over 80 years by 2050. What measures are necessary to secure healthy ageing for all?

Health policies need to take an integrated approach and work hand in hand with other policy areas to create healthy environments. In EU terms, this is already set out by the Treaty which stipulates that all Community policies and actions should contribute towards attaining a high level of health protection. A multitude of factors play a role in determining how healthy people are. In addition to genetic factors, these health determinants can be influenced by co-ordinated and effective policies. For example, today, major health concerns arise from unbalanced diet and nutrition patterns, especially among young people. The result is a dramatic rise in obesity and, subsequently, in rates of cardio-vascular diseases and cancers. Tobacco use is another obvious example.

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