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The future state of health in the European Union

30 Jul 2020

At the end of a five-day marathon summit, EU Heads of State agreed on a budget for the next seven years in the early hours of 21 July. The compromise reached resulted in a cut of more than 80% in the budget of the EU4Health proposal. The future EU research framework, Horizon Europe, also saw its budget severely cut. Horizon Europe includes a budget dedicated to research for health.

The European Heart Network (EHN), like many other health organisations, wonders how the EU can possibly square the circle of delivering on its high level of ambitions for promotion and protection of public health with a budget that has been decimated.

There is a need to rethink the EU4Health. It is not feasible to achieve the 10 specific objectives formulated in the Commission’s EU4Health proposal with a budget of 1.7 billion euros. EHN suggests that the EU4Health programme should focus on tackling the increasing and overwhelming burden of non-communicable diseases, ensuring that patients living with these conditions benefit from the programme in a proportionate manner. In the recently published blueprint for EU action on cardiovascular disease (CVD), a set of concrete recommendations have been laid out for implementation of policies, cooperation across EU member states, and research to reduce the impact of CVD (the number one cause of death in the EU). Covid-19 has demonstrated that the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases in the EU has led to the pandemic’s extreme severity, making cardiovascular patients extremely vulnerable to Covid-19 infection. Furthermore, when surviving Covid-19, cardiovascular patients suffer permanent, debilitating outcomes. Covid-19 patients are also being impacted by cardiovascular complications.

Clearly, measures aimed at addressing preparedness for future pandemics and improvement of health care systems, which are included in the proposed EU4Health programme, need to be funded. If this cannot be done through the EU4Health programme, the EU would need to find the necessary budget elsewhere in the 2021-2027 budget. EU citizens and economies will be unable to withstand further shocks.

Equally, EU policy makers have to think hard about how the reduced budget for Horizon Europe can fulfil the Union’s health research needs.

Political and budgetary compromises are part and parcel of the EU. Today, the far-reaching consequences of such compromises may be harsher than ever before.