by Ben Duncan, Senior Advisor, Health & Wellbeing
Health policy highlights of Estonia’s EU Presidency include health ministers discussing cross-border challenges in reducing harmful alcohol use, and a major conference (in Tallinn) on e-health. The Presidency also expects to make progress on the draft veterinary medicines regulation, implementation of new safety features on the packaging of medicines and the new Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Action Plan proposed by the Commission in June.
The health policy component of Estonia’s Presidency starts with a bang. On 20 June health ministers from across the EU gather in Estonia’s picturesque capital for an informal meeting. It starts with discussion of the relatively uncontroversial topics of digital health and data-driven healthcare innovation. Then, after a Gala Dinner (at which one assumes drink will be served only in moderation), on day two of the meeting the Estonians launch a discussion on alcohol policy. According to a Presidency briefing document, they want the health ministers to “evaluate” initiative implemented in the EU so far on reducing alcohol related harm. They then want the ministers to discuss the main cross-border challenges in reducing alcohol related harm. The Estonian’s briefing document helpfully lists a number of these challenges, such as “cross-border advertising, including in social media, cross-border trade, labelling of alcoholic drinks”.
Decades ago, in another political era, the EU passed a law banning tobacco advertising in cross-border media. It also passed a Directive on the labelling of tobacco products that mandated large, high visibility health warnings on the front of all packets. Since then, hard core public health advocates have dreamt about the EU passing similar laws on other “harmful” products, such as alcohol. But under the European Commission of José Manuel Barroso and now Jean-Claude Juncker there was no interest in pursuing such an agenda. Barroso and Juncker both took the view, probably correctly, that Member States (or, at least, the ones that matter most) opposed this type of EU regulation. Over the past 15 years there have been plenty of conferences, seminars and reports on alcohol and health in the EU, but little in the way of tangible policy measures.
Will the Estonian’s succeed in producing a consensus for EU action in this area where the Commission has feared to tread? Its unlikely, but maybe the Hanseatic beauty of Tallinn combined with the stony resolve of the Estonians will work some magic on the health ministers. The Estonians are planning to host a follow up expert conference on alcohol policy on 30-31 October (also in Tallinn). This is not yet listed on the official Presidency website (www.eu2017.ee) but has been mentioned in various press briefing.
One conference that is definitely listed on the Presidency website is the 16 October High-level Meeting on e-health. Estonia is organising this in partnership with industry friendly e-health interest groups HIMSS Europe and ECHAlliance. It will focus on three main topics:
1.Building citizen-driven demand in eHealth;
2.eHealth supporting the value driven and sustainable health and social services;
3.eHealth as a driver of innovation and economic development.
Organisations and potential exhibitors can sign up to attend via the conference website http://www.ehealthtallinn2017.ee
The Estonians have scheduled formal meetings of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council for October and December. It is not clear at the time of writing whether health issues will be on the agenda for either of these.
Photo Credit: www.eu2017.ee
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