European Commissioner for Health and Consumer
Address to the Environment Committee of the EP
I very much welcome the opportunity of this exchange of views in the context of the Commission’s Communication on the Annual Policy Strategy for 2007, which was adopted in March.
This dialogue serves two purposes:
We will of course take careful note of your comments and opinions, notably in developing the Commission’s Legislative and Work Programme for 2007.
The Commission is placing increasing attention on planning its activities, and seeking to ensure that we deliver our priority actions on time.
Effective dialogue in advance can only help this process, and I hope we can keep the focus for today’s discussion firmly on the future.
President Barroso has stressed that the focus of 2007 would be on the realisation of the key strategic objectives fixed at the start of this Commission.
The main target remains sustainable growth, to provide more and better jobs.
In other words – improving the economic perspective. But also getting closer to citizens.
This is a challenge, especially in my policy areas of public health, food safety and consumer policy.
But that does not mean that we should shirk the responsibility – that is why I place such attention on the proper preparation of my initiatives.
2007 should also be the year of further enlargement of the EU, with the planned accession of Bulgaria and Romania.
Our experience from the May 2004 enlargement stands us in good stead, but this will pose a further challenge in ensuring integration of the new Member States into our various policies and actions.
In this opening address, I want to focus on the key initiatives of central interest to this Committee:
On the food safety side:
And in the public health sphere:
But first, just a few words on Better Regulation – a fundamental Commission initiative underpinning all of our future actions.
We will deliver in 2007 on many of our simplification initiatives set out in the Commission’s 3-year rolling programme.
We are also reflecting now on how to develop further our stakeholder consultation processes.
I expect to see concrete results in 2007.
We also remain fully aware of the importance of implementation of EU legislation for improving regulatory quality.
This is fully in line with the EP’s position.
Animal Health Strategy
EU Animal health policy plays a key role in facilitating trade in animals and animal products, ensuring food safety, preventing the transmission of animal diseases to humans.
The social and economic consequences of diseases like foot-and-mouth disease or avian influenza highlight the importance of a strong and effective animal health policy at EU level.
The Commission is developing a new and improved animal health strategy for the EU, to go beyond what has already been achieved.
An external evaluation is underway, based on a large stakeholders’ consultation.
This will serve as a basis for reflection on possible policy options for the future.
The evaluation results will be presented officially to the stakeholders in November this year (Austrian-Finnish Presidency conference in Brussels).
The Commission will present during 2007 a Communication on the EU Animal Health Strategy.
This will include an action plan of the Commission’s priorities in this field over the period 2007-2013.
Better training for safer food
Shortly after the summer, the Commission will adopt a white Paper on Better Training for Safer Food.
This is a major new initiative addressing the organisation of training for the staff of competent authorities in the Member States and in third countries.
Such training will cover food safety, feed safety, animal health, animal welfare and plant health.
Training will make control staff more familiar with legal requirements. Furthermore, they will acquire skills with regard to control techniques.
This will enable the detection of fraudulent practices and non-compliance that might have adverse effects on our level of protection.
The training courses are open for participants from third countries, in particular developing countries.
Training is a powerful instrument to assist such countries to meet Community requirements and thus gain access for their products to the EU market.
The White Paper will explain the Commission’s operational choice for organising training.
Apart from contracts directly managed by the Commission staff, training could be delegated to an executive agency.
This would enable the Commission to concentrate on its core task – that is, to define a training programme with clear priorities.
There is no need to create a new agency: the tasks of the existing Public Health Agency could be widened to include training.
Some training is already underway, on animal welfare, animal by-products, the HACCP-system, checks on imported food, and, especially for developing countries, on avian influenza, imports of fishery products and imports of fruit and vegetables.
Labelling of feed/animal nutrition
The Commission is committed to presenting in 2007 a legislative proposal to recast the feed labelling legislation in order to modernise and replace the four existing Directives with one Regulation (accords with Better Regulation).
The main lines of the proposed Regulation would be:
The Commission is currently completing a full impact assessment.
That assessment will take into account a study which was carried out by an external contractor and the outcome of extensive consultations with stakeholders.
The labelling of foodstuffs is an issue that continues to elicit strong views.
Industry is concerned that there is too much legislation, much of which is inconsistent, whilst consumer and health organisations argue that more is needed in order to enable the consumer to make informed choices about the products they buy.
The reality is likely to lie somewhere between these two points of view.
This is an area which can be addressed in relation to both simplification and better regulation.
Our strategic goal is to define an approach to labelling which will:
The Commission is currently consulting on its future approach to labelling.
The results of this will be used in the forthcoming revision of the General Food Labelling and Nutrition Labelling Directives, which is scheduled for 2007.
Turning to public health issues:
Framework for health services
Healthcare has been removed from the scope of the Services Directive.
But the Court has ruled that internal market rules apply to health services, and those rulings still apply.
We are therefore preparing proposals for a Community framework for safe, high quality and efficient health services.
This reflects the call for greater clarity that the Parliament made in last year’s Report on patient mobility.
This is a sensitive topic. Any Community action must provide clarity for patients whilst respecting subsidiarity.
We will consult thoroughly before we decide what proposals are appropriate.
But action of some kind remains essential, for the reasons described in the Parliament’s report last year.
We need to further strengthen our preparedness in relation to health threats.
Within the Commission we are working to establish a fully equipped and staffed Health Emergency Operations Facility to allow effective and efficient co-ordination of surveillance and early warning, as well as coherence of national measures during a health crisis.
We also plan proposals for Council Recommendations on vaccination priorities and target groups and on monitoring immunological status, in particular for influenza.
We envisage strengthening and simplifying European structures to respond to health threats, in particular:
Modified Public Health Programme
And finally a few words on the modified Public Health Programme.
In its first reading Opinion, Parliament called for an even broader scope than our original proposal, plus an increased budget.
However, following the agreement on the Financial Perspectives and the inter-institutional agreement of 17 May, the final budget for health action was set at 365.6 million Euros.
This is approximately one third of the budget initially foreseen in the Commission proposal of April 2005.
Naturally, this required changes to our original proposals. We have therefore developed a modified programme that focuses on 3 broad objectives:
This aligns future health action more explicitly with the overall Community objectives of prosperity, solidarity and security.
Less money necessarily means less action.
However, although we will not be able to do as much as we had originally hoped, I believe that our modified proposal concentrates on the key areas of European added-value on health.
I have given just a brief flavour of some the key initiatives we have in the pipeline.
I look forward to answering any questions you may have.