A week marked by Europe Day and the European Commission´s publication of the 2nd EU Health Programme´s evaluation report – Large scope, small focus, thin results?
Time for some critical discussion.
The 9th of May annually marks Europe Day; a day that celebrates peace and unity in the European Union. A day chosen wisely, reciting the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, seen by many as the founding moment that created the base for what comprises the EU structure and function as we know it today. It was on the 9th of May 1950 that French foreign minister Robert Schuman announced his vision of making another war between nations in Europe unimaginable in the future, and therewith proposed a new form of political cooperation, through a historical declaration, better known as the Schuman Declaration.
Shortly after, the first steps were taken to initiate the first supranational European institution that was envisioned, through the signing of the first Treaty that established the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951, better known as the Treaty of Paris.
9 May is celebrated in various forms throughout the EU´s Member States, with the principal focus of raising awareness regarding the EU among its population, and promoting its fundamental political principles, such as European integration. A central role in the various forms of celebration – EU institutions opening their doors to the public, and national and local celebration initiatives – has been and remains the EU flag, representing the official symbolism of what the EU is. Moreover, this year probably emphasized, more than ever, the official EU motto: ´United in diversity´; a slogan which depicts precisely the base of action in order to move forward through the rather shaky state the Union finds itself currently in.
But this was not all. This week also marked the official publication of the EU´s second Health Strategy evaluation – now this is where it gets really exciting for us.
A quick intermezzo for those who haven’t heard of it: The Health Programme is the main funding vehicle of the European Commission for public health collaborative actions in Europe. It is a means to support health policy coordination, under the implementation of the overarching health strategy, ´Together for Health´, in line with the Europe 2020 priorities. Any action under the programme should, of course, be in line – and within the limits – of the EU´s health policy mandate as set out in Article 168 of the Treaty.
The evaluation reveals successes of the Health Programme, in terms of relevance of themes addressed and its contribution to a variety of public health matters, effective programme management, EU added value and coherence with Europe 2020 objectives for smart and inclusive growth.
Although many elements of the report indeed point out greatly positive conclusions, we must be critical here. The pitfalls and challenges presented point to rather fundamental causes of concern. The Programme lacks clearly defined and specific objectives, and persistent problems remain regarding monitoring and communication of the programme. Together, these factors in interplay can only detriment efficiency and effectiveness outcomes, in our view.
Indeed, the recommendations for the 3rd Health Programme include that it should have clearly defined plans for dissemination and follow-up of efforts, and propose feasible policy changes in line with a defined scope and objectives for each action.
However, when we add the continuous issue of the limited budget – 321.5 million Euros over 6 years – that this Programme has, we cannot help but wonder how the Third Health Programme will perform differently, acting on the recommendations put forward. By the way, the Third Health Programme has already been running since 2014.
The Commission Report to the European Parliament, Council, Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions does state in its conclusion that the Commission will, in the coming years, “make a particular effort to improve monitoring, reporting and dissemination, support the participation of less active Member States in the Programme and develop synergies with other EU programmes”. Quoting John F. Ryan, Acting Director of DG Santé, in the Health-EU newsletter of this week (subscribe here if you haven´t done so yet), “the Health Programme needs to focus on actions with a strong link to the health policy initiatives in view of supporting the overall Commission priorities, complement EU Member States national strategies and deliver high EU added value. It needs to seek synergies with other EU Programmes and encourage the participation of all Member States and third countries sharing the same principles and values on health who want to join our common efforts.”
So, the Commission is currently taking up the recommendations, and has thus promised to commit to taking on the challenge of achieving more sustainable results while prioritizing necessities. Indeed we wonder, how come can the Strategy have such broad objectives while having such limited budget? A large scope combined with a lack of focus, lead to a thin spread of results, as the evaluation also reveals.
However, as other examples in past years have shown, attempting to achieve more impact with less resource is often found to be nothing but a window of opportunity. Let´s hope this will be another one – and let´s hope the Third Health Programme will actually take it on. The clock is ticking.
You can consult the full report, annexes and communications here.
For more information, make sure to visit the EU in slides page for a quick and dirty overview – never too late to stay up to date.