Oh, baby, you are my special one, Marvin Gaye sang, and it could have just as well been about the Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA). But with more and more “special” committees cropping up, the question is: are they ‘specially memorable’ or ‘nothing special’?
Last week, BECA came to an end after 15 months of work. They even suspended the activities of the BECA Twitter handle on Monday (21 February).
MEPs adopted by a large majority the BECA own-initiative report (652 in favour, 15 against, 27 abstentions), which sets out the main lines of action to fight cancer in Europe.
Important detail: BECA was one of those “special” committees. “Special” because it is ephemeral, unlike the standing committees, and created to deal with very specific subjects.
There are currently two remaining special committees, both with a mandate voted by the Parliament.
“They only have a 12-month mandate – which may be extended – and cannot adopt legislative or binding texts,” Isabelle Marchais, associate researcher in health policy at the Jacques Delors Institute, explained in an interview with EURACTIV.
With a time-limited mandate and no legislative power, one can legitimately wonder about the utility of these committees.
“For some MEPs, who for various reasons do not always find their place in standing committees, this can be an interesting way of expressing themselves on fairly political subjects,” Marchais pointed out.
But it’s true that, in the case of BECA, the fight against cancer in Europe is not a new issue. On 3 February 2021, the day before World Cancer Day, the European Commission took up the subject and presented its European Plan to beat the deadly disease.
Improving early detection of cancer, ensuring access to high-quality care, reducing cancer inequalities in the EU and reducing cancer inequalities and specific agenda: the Commission’s battle plan appears quite solid.
“A great achievement”
So was it necessary to create a special committee dedicated to the fight against cancer in the Parliament? Yes, according to Sara Cerdas, an EU lawmaker with the S&D group and vice-chair of BECA.
“The aim of the BECA committee was to have a European Parliament position on how we fight cancer. The initiative report we voted on is a great achievement,” the MEP told EURACTIV.
“Now we have a position on how we stand on the battle against cancer,” she said.
Working meetings, trips to the headquarters of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva, to the University Hospital Centre in Lyon, meetings with experts, doctors, members of civil society… For more than a year, the fight against cancer has been in the spotlight thanks to the work of the dedicated special committee.
The own-initiative report also defined the main priorities in the fight against cancer as prevention, earlier diagnosis, equal access to treatment and improving the quality of life of patients in remission.
According to Jacques Delors’ Marchais, “if the conditions are right, special committees can play an important role in the Parliament and create political momentum as we have seen in the past with the fight against tax fraud and evasion”.
And now what?
But what will happen now that BECA is gone and the report has been voted on? Will Parliament stop talking about cancer?
“It is not going to happen. Cancer is the second cause of death in the EU,” the MEP Cerdas said.
“It is a multi-factor disease. It can be tackled by different committees but more specifically by the ENVI committee,” she added, referring to the European Parliament’s environment committee.
But it’s fair to say the ENVI, BECA’s big sister in the Parliament, has its hands full with some of our biggest issues, with a broad mandate including environment, public health and food safety issues.
Likewise, Marchais agreed that it is “not just because the special committee as such no longer exists that the subject of the fight against cancer will not continue to be addressed within the EU”.
So the issue is now in the hands of the European Commission, who will be considering the proposals put forward by the BECA report to feed into a series of legislative measures on the subject, expected by the end of 2022.
“The European Commission has made this one of the priorities of its mandate and its plan provides for important means and levers,” Marchais added.
The BECA special committee has thus helped to highlight a major public health issue in Europe, but its true strength may lie elsewhere.
For the Jacques Delors Institute researcher, this short mandate will also have been an opportunity to “compensate a little for the EU’s meagre skills in public health, even if we cannot expect a revolution in this area”. Public health is one of the domains regulated by national governments, rather than EU institutions.
A new special committee will soon be created on COVID-19. Let’s see if this is the beginning of a revolution (or not).
By Clara Bauer
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