Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Public Health Action Programme

Delivered in Plenary - 2nd July 2002

Mr President

First of all let me congratulate my friend, the rapporteur Professor Trakatellis, on his excellent work. Remarkably he actually succeeded at conciliation in increasing the funding allowed beyond the initial proposals of the Commission to EUR 380 million over five years, which contrasts with the initial Council proposal of only EUR 280 million.

EU action in public health is still in the minds of some controversial, as not only is there a risk of duplication with the World Health Organisation's European activities, but also potentially a conflict with the fact that delivery and funding of health provision is exclusively the competence of the Member States. If EU initiatives highlight best practice or stimulate demand for expensive treatments or disease prevention measures, then this may cause budgetary problems for Member States.

Nevertheless, the focus on lifestyle changes as health determinants, with a focus particularly on information dissemination on smoking, excess alcohol consumption, nutrition and exercise, go a long way to reducing this risk. The hypocrisy of the EU, which still subsidises the tobacco growers to the tune of about EUR 1 billion per year, needs urgent reform.

Some claim that the amounts involved at EU level compared to national health expenditures, are so tiny that it is arguable whether we can achieve anything meaningful at EU level. Nevertheless, in spite of what I have said, I engaged constructively at the first reading, along with a number of my colleagues in the Conservative Party, particularly in highlighting the issue of mental health as a priority need and the need to set up formal structures which will coordinate the disparate funded activities and bring together the whole programme at the centre with direction and leadership. The need to develop consensus statements on best practice is important and it is vital to engage the candidate countries who are often so far behind in this area.

Lastly, a rapid reaction system to respond to impending health threats, as we have seen with the dioxin scandal in Belgium or the BSE crisis, is highly appropriate. It is the sort of thing which will bring the EU closer to the peoples of Europe who probably care much more about health policy than almost anything else on the political agenda.