EU countries hold primary responsibility for organising and delivering health services and medical care. EU health policy therefore serves to complement national policies, to ensure health protection in all EU policies and to work towards a stronger Health Union.
EU policies and actions in public health aim to
- protect and improve the health of EU citizens
- support the modernisation and digitalisation of health systems and infrastructure
- improve the resilience of Europe's health systems
- equip EU countries to better prevent and address future pandemics
Strategic health issues are discussed by representatives of national authorities and the European Commission in a senior-level working group on public health. EU institutions, countries, regional and local authorities, and other interest groups contribute to the implementation of the EU's health strategy and annual work programmes.
European Commission's role
The European Commission's Directorate for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) supports the efforts of EU countries to protect and improve the health of their citizens and to ensure the accessibility, effectiveness and resilience of their health systems. This is done through various means, including by
- proposing legislation
- providing financial support
- coordinating and facilitating the exchange of best practices between EU countries and health experts
- health promotion activities
The EU can adopt health legislation under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union: Article 168 (protection of public health), Article 114 (single market) and Article 153 (social policy). Areas where the EU has adopted legislation include
- Patients' rights in cross-border healthcare
- Pharmaceuticals and medical devices (pharmacovigilance, falsified medicines, clinical trials)
- Health security and infectious diseases
- Digital health and care
- Organs, blood, tissues and cells
The Council of the EU can also address recommendations on public health to EU countries.
Investing in health
The EU4Health programme provides funding to improve health in the Union, tackle cross-border health threats, improve the availability and affordability of medicinal products, medical devices and crisis-relevant products and increase health systems’ resilience.
Other EU programmes also invest in healthcare systems, health research, infrastructure or wider health-related aspects, in particular
- Horizon Europe health cluster supports research and innovation for high-quality accessible healthcare, a resilient EU prepared for emerging threats, and high quality digital services for all
- EU cohesion funds invest in health in EU countries and regions
- Resilience and recovery facility
Priorities for 2021-2027
The European Health Union will focus on both urgent and long-term health priorities, from the response to the COVID-19 crisis and resilience to cross-border health threats, to Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, the Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe and digital health.
The EU will continue to pursue international cooperation on global health threats and challenges such as antimicrobial-resistant infections and vaccination.