Belgium shares EU health priorities for Council Presidency
On December 8, Belgium held a conference to unveil its program for the upcoming Council of the EU Presidency (website), to start on January 1, 2024. Led by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hadja Lahbib, the recorded kick-off event provided a first look into what can be expected policy-wise. The Council of the EU is a crucial EU institution, as it negotiates and adopts EU laws, and coordinates policies; its Presidency rotates every 6 months.
Overall, Belgium has set its sights on the following core priorities: (I) defending rule of law, democracy, and unity, (II) strengthening our competitiveness, (III) pursuing a green and just transition, (IV) reinforcing our social and health agenda, (V) protecting people and borders, and (VI) promoting a global Europe.
Within the health domain, preparedness, care, and protection were selected as the three overarching themes guiding the Presidency’s work: the EU must strengthen its resilience against future health threats, healthcare systems must be supported, and the security of medicine supply must be enhanced.
In terms of legislative work, Belgium wants to conclude two major files: the European Health Data Space, and the Substances of Human Origin Regulation, both of which have reached the stage of interinstitutional talks (tripartite meetings between representatives of the Parliament, the Council and the Commission with a view to reach an agreement on the final legislative text). Whilst the EHDS, in particular, presents quite a few hurdles, the Presidency wants to finalize negotiations before a new Parliament is elected.
Belgium also set out to address the health workforce crisis and to discuss the European Union’s role in ensuring the availability and sufficiency of the right skills. For that purpose, it wants to assess the impact of the Professional Qualifications Directive. This is particularly important for EHA, within the context of the Madrid Declaration and our advocacy for a harmonized framework for hematology training. Moreover, the Presidency would like to look into public incentives for medical research and innovation and make sure that medical needs are covered; to achieve this the Presidency will propose a common methodology to identify and classify unmet needs. This issue has been addressed by EHA in its views on the EU Pharmaceutical Revision, and we will strive to provide further input on this.
The topic of clinical trials was also flagged by the incoming Presidency and, in particular, the strengthening of the EU’s capacity to conduct large-scale trials, in view of the lack of coordination across Member States. Lastly, shortages and the availability of critical medicines are of great importance to Belgium and will be acted on, for example, via the launch of a Critical Medicines Alliance.
In addition to its list of policy priorities, the Presidency has planned several health-themed events:
- Conference on mental health and work - January 30-31
- High-level Conference on the Future EU Health Union - March 26-27
- High-level Conference on Healthcare needs as drivers for healthcare policy and innovation - April 17-18
- Integrating Care, Strengthening Communities: The Data Connection - May 2-3
- The Genome Data Infrastructure and Genome of Europe – towards R&I and healthcare of the future - May 28-29