Health : Subsidiarity, the Cornerstone of Eu Health Action *

Article excerpt

The EU's reform treaty has gone slightly further in addressing public health than the current legislation. However, member states have seized the opportunity to underline the subsidiarity principle, which characterises this field. That is to say that the 27 insist that they will only confer upon the EU the power to legislate where they feel they themselves would be less effective. Europolitics had provided much the same analysis based on the proposal submitted by the Portuguese EU Presidency at the Intergovernmental Conference, which replaces the rejected EU Constitution (see Europolitics 3358 and 3336). This remains true in the Lisbon Treaty. Under definition and implementation of policy and action', the EU has taken onboard the demands concerning the protection of human health.

The EU's objective is to reach "a high level of health care" for Europeans. The term human health' has been replaced by physical and mental health'. The EU now gives due attention to these issues, by way of two green papers, one on mental health, the other on healthy diets and physical activity. The anew treaty states that the EU "encourages cooperation between member states" in order to "improve the complementarity of health services in cross-border areas". The text encourages "in particular initiatives aiming at the establishment of guidelines and indicators, the organisation of exchange of best practice, and the preparation of the necessary elements for periodic monitoring and evaluation. The European Parliament shall be kept fully informed".


However, unlike in other sectors, public health has lost ground when compared to the defunct Constitution. "To get Denmark onboard without a referendum, we had to recall the current dispositions in terms of public health in the EU," said an EU source following the European Council of 21 and 23 June, which paved the way for the new document. The Danes blocked what they considered to be a transfer of sovereignty'. Thus the new treaty does not contain what was the main innovation in the Constitutional Treaty, under Article 152 (public health): measures pertaining to "monitoring, early warning of and combating serious cross-border threats to health" have been relegated to a paragraph that calls for "promoting measures". Above all, this paragraph rules out "any harmonisation of the laws and regulations of the member states".

In the Constitutional Treaty, which was rejected just two years ago by France and the Netherlands, these provisions were included so that measures could be established, in the case of shared competences between the EU and member states, to face common safety concerns (quality and security standards for organs and substances of human origin, blood and blood derivatives, veterinary and phytosanitary measures aimed specifically at public health protection, etc) Harmonisation would therefore have been possible with regards to monitoring serious cross-border threats to health. …