14 March 2014 - With the Elections for the European Parliament around the corner, most of the political groups of the European Parliament have already nominated their Commissioner Candidates and launched their manifestos (see EPHA’s manifesto). We have taken this opportunity to analyse the groups’ views on health-related issues.
Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (PES)
The PES group aims to “build a Europe that leaves no one behind and that addresses the healthcare needs of Europeans”. The social consequences of the crises are far from being either addressed or solved, therefore we urge the future Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and Commission to ensure that Health in its broader sense is put at the centre of EU policy making. The PES group commits to promoting access to sexual and reproductive rights, as we see that there might be a risk of walking backwards on this issue with some Member States legislating against it. We also found really encouraging their promise to engage with civil society throughout the whole policy making process. Individual citizens sometimes have a hard time engaging with EU institutions and it is our responsibility as NGOs to become the bridge between the two actors.
Related to the Free Trade Agreement, also known as TTIP, that is currently being negotiated between the EU and the US, the PES as well as EPHA demand that it must be bound to the protection of people´s human and social rights, environmental standards and corporate social responsibility.
In a statement made at the end of April, Commissioner Candidate Martin Schulz has pledged to fight for children´s rights if he finally holds the position. He stated that due to the effects of the economic crises there has been a dramatic rise in the number of children that have fallen into poverty, let alone in 2011 there was an increase of half a million children. Schulz has committed to introduce a European minimum wage scheme and to maintain and improve public services to combat this figures. It is well known that well-functioning public services such as education and health systems helps to counter balance the effects of inequalities.
Group of the European People’s Party (EPP)
During their conference on 6th and 7th of March, the European Popular Party (EPP) launched its manifesto for the upcoming EU elections and nominated former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker as EPP Candidate for President of the European Commission. In their manifesto the group advocate for reforming the health sector, pension systems, labour markets and education systems in order to make them sustainable in the long term. They also agree that social dialogue is a prerequisite for the successful implementation of comprehensive and fair reforms that would lead to an improvement of these sectors. However, EPHA believes that health sector reforms should not be taken that could undermine universal access and equity to services. This, particularly at a time where increasing poverty and inequalities mean that health systems are needed more than ever.
The EPP also wants to develop a strategy centered on the concept of "healthy ageing" which promotes lifelong healthier lifestyles. In EPHA we would welcome such a strategy, but would take it further by including it within the Europe 2020 strategy, for instance by using healthy life years indicators. EPHA is also calling for a strategy on child health and wellbeing. EPHA would therefore support the lifecourse approach to healthy ageing. Nevertheless, we disagree with the way the healthy ageing strategy is presented in their manifesto, as they frame it as part of a wider reform of pension systems.
For the EPP, EU trade policy should be based on balancing open markets with the need for fair competition, fair and equitable trade agreements and sustainable development. However EPHA is concerned about the way this is implemented and how it could impact the public health interest.
Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance
The Greens nominated Ska Keller (Germany) and José Bové (France) as their leading candidates for the next elections. In their manifesto, health is included in nearly all its policy areas, mainly in the context of environmental health but also on social protection. EPHA agrees that an inclusive economy that takes into consideration not only the people, but the environment from where resources are sourced, is important to our society. The Green Group also claims that a new deal is needed for Europe and that it has to be based on sustainability, focusing on delivering real and tangible well-being to people living in Europe. Neoliberal policies have not improved, but rather worsened the situation of many. The Greens strongly believe that changing this has to be the number one priority for the EU Institutions over the next five years. Similarly, this also applies to the way trade policy is being conducted within the EU, which needs to show respect and solidarity to our global partners.
The Greens believe that food quality linked to environmental sustainability is paramount. EPHA would also like to stress the importance of healthy food supply sources that have vast benefits in protecting health.
Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)
The campaign will be jointly-led by two candidates Guy Verhofstadt (OpenVLD, Belgium) and Olli Rehn (Keskusta, Finland). Unfortunately the only reference to health in their manifesto is within the context of the Single Market and trade policy liberalisation. We hope that this will change during the next legislature since we believe that economic activity should first and foremost promote well-being, social inclusion and better health for the public. However we welcome their commitment to fight for full protection of all human rights and fighting discrimination of any kind. We also commend their commitment to protecting the most vulnerable both within the EU and beyond our borders and to putting human rights at the core of EU Foreign Policy.
Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left GUE/NGL
In one of his latest conferences Commission Candidate for GUE Alexis Tsipras has stated that the current European Fiscal Framework based on balanced year on year budgets has to be immediately suspended. The current situation doesn’t allow to increase spending when it is needed the most, like in nowadays economic recession.
Another point he raised is that the European Immigration Framework needs to be reformed. Europe’s current policy does not guarantee minimum human rights. Furthermore, it does not address the core of the problem which is the inequality between countries.
Update on Research and Innovation:
In this update we want to take a closer look at how research features among the different Manifestos. It should be stated that a R&D is a top priority in the EU agenda, as we have seen with the Europe 2020 Strategy. It is seen as a way out of the crisis and as a means to create growth and so is reflected in the party manifestos. Interestingly, there has been a step backwards at a national level with many Member States drastically cutting their R&D budgets due to austerity measures imposed from Brussels. One could say that there is a lack of coherence at EU level relating to this issue. Having said this, EPHA we commend the enthusiasm shownby most EP political groups on this issue, and hope it will bring changes at a national level.
The ALDE Group seems to be the most outspoken on the issue, claiming structural reforms on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) spending and allocating a larger budget line on research. The EPP group also calls for a growth friendly budget on research, education and technology, while the PES advocates for more research spending in order to stimulate reindustrialisation. Last but not least, the Greens prioritise renewable technology research as a way of tackling climate change.