It is up to national governments to organise healthcare and ensure that it is provided. The EU's role is to complement national policies by:
EU health policy, implemented though the Health Strategy [123 KB] , focuses on:
Health also affects economic prosperity - see the policy paper Investing in Health. [3 MB]
Specific EU action
The EU backs preventive action against diseases, e.g.:
The EU helps national governments to prepare more effectively for serious health threats affecting more than one country and to coordinate their response better – by enabling vaccines and other medical inputs to be purchased jointly, for example.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control in Stockholm assesses emerging threats so the EU can respond rapidly. It pools knowledge on current and emerging threats, and works with national counterparts to develop disease monitoring across Europe.
All medicines in the EU must be approved at national or EU level before being placed on the market. The safety of a drug sold in the EU is monitored throughout its life. If it is dangerous, swift action is taken; sales are suspended, or the marketing permit is withdrawn.
The European Commission, the national authorities, and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in London all play a part in this system. The EMA helps national regulators by coordinating the scientific assessment of medicines' quality, safety and efficacy.
Through Horizon 2020, its research programme, the EU is set to spend almost €7.5 bn on research to improve European healthcare between 2014 and 2020.
The EU helps where it is necessary – or easier - to go abroad for treatment: if the nearest hospital is just across the border, for example, or if specialist treatment is only available abroad.
EU citizens' rights to treatment in another EU country are set out in an EU law on patients' rights in healthcare involving more than one EU country (cross-border healthcare), which also:
The European health insurance card (EHIC) helps travellers obtain treatment if they fall ill abroad.
The EU works closely with strategic partners, such as the World Health Organisation, to improve healthcare worldwide through research, development aid, greater access to medicines, and so on.
Manuscript updated in November 2014
This publication is part of the 'European Union explained' series