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European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Van Lancker Report

Plenary debate - European Parliament

Strasbourg, 2 July 2002

I am pleased to have been afforded the opportunity to speak, on behalf of the European Commission, at the conclusion of the Plenary debate on this report.

Ms Van Lancker's report addresses a range of important issues which are amongst the most sensitive and significant health and ethical issues facing our societies today.

At the outset, let me acknowledge the efforts that have been made by the rapporteur to respond to the legal order of the European Union.

As the rapporteur rightly acknowledges, the European Union does not have competence to engage in health care delivery. This is clear from the Treaty.

The Treaty sets out in Article 152 paragraph 5 that "Community action in the field of public health shall fully respect the responsibilities of the Member States for the organisation and delivery of health services and medical care."

Therefore, I would underline as does the Report, that the delivery of health care falls within the responsibility of the Member States. This also applies to the policy of delivery of sexual and reproductive health services.

In this regard, I note that the vast majority of recommendations in the report are directed to Member States and Accession Countries. It will be a matter for them to consider how most appropriately to respond in line with their own constitutional and legal frameworks.

Let me avail of this opportunity to underline that the Commission has no ambition to become engaged in health care delivery systems or medical care. At present we do not have the power to do so. I do not envisage this situation changing into the future.

Subsidiarity is the underlying principle in the delivery of health services and this should be respected.

Let me be clear, the Commission will not be making any proposals in areas relating to the delivery of Health Services. This is the responsibility of Member States.

So whilst a full and frank debate about key health issues is essential, we must also respect the distinction between Member States and Community competence when we begin to consider general recommendations in sensitive areas.

Clearly, there are important cultural, ethnic, ethical and religious differences between our citizens on such matters. In highlighting the importance of sexual reproductive health and rights, sensitivity needs to be shown to the divergent attitudes on issues such as abortion in our Member States.

Sexual and reproductive health issues are core topics of social and public health debate in Europe today. These issues touch the lives of our citizens in a way that other issues never could. For this reason they are issues best decided as close as possible to those affected.

But in the context of developing a public health policy, there are a number of issues which require careful consideration and analysis. And reports, such as the one under discussion tonight, provide insight into the complex issues affecting today's policymakers.

In all aspects of sexual and reproductive health, the more informed and the better educated the individual, the greater is the chance that they will avoid pitfalls, by taking responsibility for their health and well being. Of course, in often very difficult real life situations, individuals must move from absorbing information to developing a holistic understanding of how these issues impact upon their lives.

Naturally, in this debate, there is significant attention addressed to the responsibility and rights of women in dealing with their health and well being. I believe however, that greater attention needs to be brought to bear on the responsibilities of men in this domain.

Too often we overlook the importance of improving men's education so as to change behaviour, attitudes and involvement. I hope that our Member States will place a greater emphasis on the education and information of men in this important area.

The 1997 Commission Report on the State of Women's Health in the European Community also provided some useful analysis. It drew attention to the fact that sexual and reproductive health issues are vital questions for women of fertile age.

Work on public health indicators is ongoing within the European Commission. Experts are developing indicators, which will provide the basis for gathering and analysing health information in Europe. These will include a range of indicators addressing various aspects of reproductive and sexual health.

The Commission is prepared to compile and undertake statistical, epidemiological investigations on the basis of collected data. I must stress, however, that the quality of such work will depend on the quality and compatibility of the data provided by the Member States.

Within the new Public Health Programme, the third strand will address health determinants through disease prevention and health promotion. This applies also to sexual and reproductive health.

As with the Health Promotion Programme, Accession Countries can participate. However, the local health promotion and disease prevention Strategy is the responsibility of the Member States. This would include school health education and promotion projects which can draw on the scientific data generated by this analysis.

In relation to the "Mexico City Policy" of the US Administration referred to in the Report, the European Commission does not see itself in a position to comment or react. This issue is a matter for the US administration to decide. I have therefore restricted my comments today to those areas for which the Commission has competence.

May I conclude by underlining the importance and sensitivity of the issues under discussion today which have been raised and explored as a result of the work of Ms Van Lancker.

Thank you.

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