Last Friday, the Commission closed a consultation on the performance of the Europe 2020 Strategy since its launch in 2010, and the directions it should take in future. EFPIA and the European Generics Association (EGA) provided a wide-ranging joint response, including discussion of how the development of a European life sciences strategywould support the goals of the Strategy. In this blog, I’d like to highlight three further ideas from the response which, when combined, would contribute to meeting Europe 2020’s goal of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
A ‘Europe 2020’ check
Let’s start with something simple. Smart, sustainable and inclusive growth are the right goals to strive for. Thus the Strategy should function as a benchmark by which policymakers and stakeholders can constructively work towards better policies. A ‘competitiveness check’ is already intended to be part of Council practice. This idea should be expanded to a ‘Europe 2020’ check: do policy decisions help meet the Europe 2020 goals?
The workings of such a check would need reflection, but some personal ideas of how it could be put into practice are as follows. In Council, the approaches pleaded by Member States, and the overall effects of common positions, should be explicitly considered in light of how they support Europe 2020. In Parliament, Committee chairs could challenge rapporteurs to delineate how their dossiers will help support smart, sustainable and inclusive growth – and to justify any diversions from these principles. And before walking out into the fresh air after a late night trialogue, final compromises should also be considered in this way. Sound repetitive? If the EU is serious about implementing the Strategy, it bears repeating.
Develop the European Semester to help meet the Europe 2020 goals
The European policy landscape has undergone major developments since the Strategy was launched in 2010, with financial stability an understandable priority. The introduction of the European Semester is a major change in how the EU works. However, in the field of healthcare, policy recommendations have often focused on short term cost containment that limits the ability of countries to pursue the Strategy’s goals – and could sometimes undermine the health of the population. At present, the Semester sometimes pulls in a different direction to the Strategy, even as the Commission describes the Semester as a tool for “making [the strategy] happen”. More sophisticated policymaking is possible, which would discriminate between spending that is inefficient and spending that is an effective investment in health. The Commission needs to more clearly articulate how the Semester can support the Strategy, and change its approach in some policy areas accordingly. A clearer process for stakeholders to provide input into the Country Specific Recommendations would therefore also be valuable.
Explicit inclusion of health within Europe 2020
I’d like to extract one section directly from the EFPIA/EGA response:
‘The Commission’s stock-taking document [on Europe 2020] notes that the shrinking and ageing of the working population “will limit Europe’s growth potential unless the EU is able to put more people to work and ensure that they work more productively for a longer time” (p.7). Health is at the very foundation of this aspiration, but the Europe 2020 strategy as currently conceived does not adequately address it. Some policymakers use the metaphor of a ‘race’ for global competitiveness – therefore, they should also appreciate the importance of investing in the fitness of the runner. EU governments spend a far greater proportion of social expenditure on sickness and disability transfers than on unemployment transfers: policy actions that promote investment and uptake of products and services that support and improve the health of the population are therefore essential.’
Supporting health contributes to sustainability and inclusiveness – and given the knowledge-led, innovative nature of the industries involved, it’s also clearly smart. On this basis, there is a clear rationale for an explicit inclusion of supporting health within the revised Strategy. The Commission even has a mandate for this: the December 2013 Council Conclusions on the Reflection process on modern, responsive and sustainable health systems state that the Commission and Member States should “continue the reflexions on the adequate representation of health in the framework of the Europe 2020 Strategy in order to ensure that this strategic issue will be included also during future exercises of the European Semester”.
In these ideas and more, the EFPIA/EGA response can be a valuable contribution to the debate on how to revamp Europe 2020, and make sure that is helping to deliver real improvements in the lives of Europeans.6