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16 December 2011

Europe this week

Table of content:

Public Health

No contagions in Europe!


New round of funding for Europe's citizens – and Europe's future

Public Health

No contagions in Europe!

The European Union aims at better protecting Europe's population from deadly diseases such as the "swine flu" or infections with "E. coli bacteria". Following a proposal on health security adopted by the Commission, EU Member States are to strengthen their structures of crisis management to ensure a fully co-ordinated response in the event of a crisis. Also, the mandate of the Health Security Committee will be enforced, whose role is to manage health emergencies at EU level.

As a matter of fact

In today's world of fast travelling to far-flung places, illnesses and contaminated products do not stop at national borders but can quickly spread around the globe within hours. The strain of human influenza A (H1N1), also known as "swine flu", is an example: In April 2009, the virus was first identified in Mexico and the United States but soon also affected all EU Member States. The pandemic caused 2 900 deaths in the 27 EU countries plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

Human influenza H1N1 proved that EU Member States cannot act effectively alone when it comes to containing health threats. A comprehensive and consistent framework of health security is needed to mitigate serious health threats for Europe. The lessons learned have been instrumental in producing the Commission proposal for a Decision presented in this article.


The Lisbon Treaty – in force since December 2009 – empowers the European Union to take action to combat serious cross-border health threats at Union level and to complement national policies. The European Commission may take initiatives to promote coordination in close cooperation with the Member Sates (see Art. 6 and 168 TFEU).

The proposal adopted by the Commission is based on this legal context. It covers these cross-border health threats:

  • Threats of biological origin, relating to communicable (= infectious) diseases or diseases caused by biotoxins, like influenza, measles, anthrax botulism, E. coli or malaria;

  • Threats of chemical origin like those caused by accidental release of dangerous substances;

  • Threats of environmental origin, including extreme weather conditions such as heat waves and cold spells.

The proposal does not include radiological or nuclear threats as these are covered by the EURATOM Treaty.

It is built on these main measures for action:

  • Every Member State is to develop a national plan to be prepared and to respond rapidly when health threats strike. The plan is to include measures to improve access to vaccines and other preventive actions. Also, joint purchasing of vaccines will be facilitated through an EU mechanism;

  • In close collaboration with the Member States, the European Commission is to strengthen and better interlink structures to monitor, to notify and to assess the risks of health threats;

  • The EU is to cooperate with third countries and international organisations such as the World Health Organisation to exchange best practice and information;

  • The Health Security Committee (HSC) is to become a formal body.

In the spotlight: The Health Security Committee

After the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the deliberate release of anthrax in the US, the EU Health Security Committee (HSC) was set up. Since 2001, the HSC has been an informal advisory group on health security.

The committee brings together high-level representatives from the Health Ministries of the 27 EU Member States, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland and the European Commission. The HSC provides a platform for exchange of information between the Member States and the Commission. The Committee gives advice and recommendations and draws lessons from past health emergency situations. During a health crisis, the HSC ensures exchange of information on public health measures. The overall goal is to ensure coherence of Member States' actions.

Examples of activities:

  • Following the unrest in North African countries at the beginning of 2011, the HSC discussed the risk of infectious diseases in refugee camps in EU Member States and the challenges involved for national healthcare

  • After the Volcano ash cloud in 2010, the HSC convened to assess the impact of ash particles on human health

  • Due to shortage of radio-isotopes for medical use in 2008, EU health ministers requested the HSC to counter the lack of radio-isotopes used for diagnostics and the treatment of cancers or heart disease.

The proposal adopted by the Commission formalises and gives a broader mandate to the Health Security Committee. The Committee's task is to advise on policy, strategy and technical issues related to health security.


Cross-border health threats can have serious economic consequences: The SARS virus, for example, affected more than 8000 people and caused more than 800 deaths in 2003 and 2004. The estimated loss of incomes ranges from US $ 12.3 to 28.4 billion. The economic losses due to avian influenza figure around US $ 10 billion from December 2003 until February 2006.

Country specific

Each EU Member State is to set up a preparedness plan that describes what to do once a crisis strikes. As it is essential to mitigate the impact of a crisis from the beginning, each plan will include measures to improve access to vaccines and other medical countermeasures. Also, key elements such as crisis communication, inter-sectoral coordination, etc. will be defined. When drawing up the plans, Member States will respect guidelines put in place by the Commission, which will co-ordinate the process.

Looking Ahead

The proposal is to come into effect at the end of 2012 or in early 2013 as a Decision. Once entered into force, each EU Member State is to designate the competent authorities and contact points to put into place the measures of the proposal. Furthermore, Member States are to nominate their representative for the Health Security Committee as well as an alternate.


European Commission website on public health

European Commissioner Dalli's website

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control


New round of funding for Europe's citizens – and Europe's future

Raising citizens' awareness of Europe's history and promoting civic participation are the central aims of the new "Europe for Citizens" programme that the European Commission adopted this week. To run from 2014 to 2020, the programme will offer funding opportunities to think tanks, citizens' groups and other civil society organisations that facilitate European integration and have a transnational dimension. The supported projects will aim to strengthen citizens' involvement in discussions and debates on EU affairs. Citizens' participation is a crucial element in building Europe's future. The planned budget is €229 million.

As a matter of fact

The European Union can only exist and prosper when citizens support the European idea and actively participate in building Europe as a common project. To ensure this support, EU citizens must know about Europe's past and they must feel a strong sense of ownership and belonging. Also, citizens need to understand how the European Union functions and which solutions and opportunities the EU offers.

The current ‘Europe for Citizens’ programme (2007-2013) is a crucial element to achieve these goals. Yet the programme comes to an end on 31 December 2013. In order to support citizens and civil society beyond 2013, the European Commission has proposed a new programme for the funding period 2014-2020.

At the end of 2010 and throughout 2011 a public consultation, focus group surveys and stakeholder meetings took place. The new programme takes into account experience and suggestions for better practice submitted by citizens, public authorities and civil society organisations at these events.


In June 2011, the Commission adopted the multiannual financial framework for 2014-2020. Under this multiannual spending plan €229 million (in current prices) are set aside to finance the "Europe for Citizens" programme 2014 - 2020. The programme offers a new architecture. It is built on two thematic strands:

- "Remembrance and European citizenship"

- "Democratic engagement and civic participation"

"Remembrance and European citizenship" is about supporting activities that, for example, commemorate victims of Nazism and Stalinism or that promote tolerance. The overall goal is to foster understanding for Europe's past and the history of European integration.

"Democratic engagement and civic participation" is about strengthening citizens' understanding of how EU policies are made in today's political system. The central aim is to link actions with the European political agenda and to enable citizens to participate in the EU's democratic processes. Under this theme a number of think-tanks and civil society organisation can receive financial support. Moreover, a variety of projects can be funded, such as citizens' meetings, civil society projects and networking of towns engaged in twinning.

The programme will be open to organisations that work in the area of European integration and that have a transnational dimension. These can include think tanks, citizens’ groups and organisations involved in European remembrance. In this regard there is no change to the current programme.

In the spotlight: Town twinning

Bringing citizens together across national borders is a vital means of building a peaceful and united Europe that is supported by the spirit of solidarity. Town twinning was born as a grassroots initiative in the aftermath of World War II. Today, there are almost 40,000 links between towns and cities all across Europe and often with partners all over the world.

The EU has supported town twinning since 1989. The EU funds approximately 1,100 town twinning and citizens' projects per year under the current "Europe for Citizens" programme 2007-2013.

One example is "Golden Bridge", an environmental project between the town of Malle in Belgium and partners in France, UK, Poland and Germany. Volunteers in 15 municipalities collected more than half a million corks, which were sent to a social enterprise in Malle. The workers turned the corks into insulation material. The project was so successful that similar social enterprises were created in other town twinnings.


To date, the current programme reaches more than 1 million European citizens per year. By December 2013 it will have supported more than 9,000 projects through grants and operational support at local, regional and European level.

Country specific

Every organisation already participating today can also apply in the future. These organisations can be from the EU Member States, from the European Economic Area or from the candidate and potential candidate countries. The participating non-EU countries must fulfil the general principles and conditions of taking part in EU funding programmes.

Looking ahead

Following adoption by the European Commission this week, the proposal will be transmitted to the EU institutions and the national parliaments. The draft needs to be approved by the European Council with the consent of the European Parliament. The final decision is expected in spring 2013. The current ‘Europe for Citizens’ programme comes to an end on 31 December 2013. The new programme will enter into force the next day, on 1st January 2014.


European Commission website on "Europe for Citizens" programme 2007 – 2013

Press pack on the European Commission's multiannual financial framework

European Commission website of DG Communication

Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship

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