European Union: Commission Adopts Health & Consumer Protection Strategy

Last Updated: 31 August 2005
Article by Debra Hueting

INTRODUCTION

On 6th April 2005 the European Commission published a communication entitled "Healthier, safer, more confident citizens: a Health and Consumer Protection Strategy" (the "Communication"). It sets out the Commission's proposed strategy in this area for 2007-13 and includes a proposal to establish a programme of community action in the fields of health and consumer protection. The strategy and programme bring together two existing EU level programmes: the public health programme and the current programme on consumer policy. The Communication aims to identify synergies between the health and consumer policy areas and proposes concrete actions. The two existing programmes share many objectives such as health promotion, safety, information and education. The consolidation of the two policies is designed to generate more coherence and consistency as well as streamlining some procedures. The Communication also aims to increase the importance placed on both of these two policy areas.

MAIN OBJECTIVES

The Communication sets out three main objectives that are common to health and consumer protection:

  • to protect citizens from risks and threats which are beyond the control of individuals and that cannot be effectively tackled by individual Member States alone
  • increase the abilities to citizens to take better decisions about their health and consumer interests
  • to mainstream health and consumer policy objectives across all community policies in order to put health and consumer issues at the centre of policy making.

AREAS OF SYNERGY

The areas of synergy between health and consumer policies identified by the Commission where joint action can be taken include:

  • improving communication with citizens, including consulting better with them during the policy making stage for example through the development of web-portals and/or conducting information awareness raising campaigns
  • increasing the participation of consumer and health organisations in EU policy making
  • developing a Commission approach to integrate health and consumer concerns into other policies and share best practice with the Member States
  • enhancing scientific advice and expert risk assessment
  • promoting the safety of products and substances of human origin (for example blood)
  • promoting international co-operation with international organisations.

HEALTH POLICY

The EU will seek to improve citizens' health throughout their lives, to promote health as a human right and to encourage health investment by pursuing the following objectives:

  • to protect citizens against health threats
  • to promote policies that lead to a healthier way of life
  • to contribute to reducing the incidents of major diseases in the EU
  • to contribute to the development of more effective and efficient health systems
  • support the above objectives by providing health information and analysis.

The programme reinforces the three strands of the existing public health programme (information, threats and determinants), and creates new ones: to provide efficient responses to disease prevention and to improve co-operation between health systems. Annex 2 to the Communication provides an exhaustive list of actions planned under each of these strands.

In respect of promoting health and preventing disease the Communication states "promoting good health requires tackling both the lifestyle factors and addictions that undermine health (for example smoking, alcohol and unhealthy diets) and broader socio-economic and environmental health determinants". The Commission outlines an approach to pursue these aims using "the series of community strategies to tackle the most important determinants, such as nutrition and obesity, alcohol abuse, tobacco smoking and drugs".

CONSUMER POLICY

The Commission is aiming to consolidate work already done in this area and to complete the review of the acquis communitaire (the body of legal rules) in this area. It also aims to develop existing knowledge, improve consumer education, and enhance co-operation between enforcement agencies. The Communication identifies two primary areas for action:

  • ensuring a common high level of protection for all EU consumers, wherever they live, travel to or buy from in the EU, from risks and threats to their safety and economic interests
  • increasing consumers' capacity to promote their own interests, that is, helping consumers help themselves.

The consumer objectives are as follows:

  • to ensure a common high level of protection for all EU consumers, wherever they live, travel or buy from in the EU, from risks and threats to their safety and economic interests
  • to increase consumers' capacity to promote their own interests, that is, helping consumers help themselves.

The four strands of action foreseen by the Commission are:

  • better understanding of consumers and markets
  • better consumer protection regulation
  • better enforcement monitoring and redress
  • better informed and educated consumers.

HEALTH LIFE YEARS

The ultimate goal of the EU health and consumer policy is to improve EU citizens quality of life in terms of their health and consumer safety. The Commission proposes measuring progress in the area of health using healthy life years ("HLY") which are the number of years a person can expect to live in good health.

AGENCY

To implement the joint health and consumer protection programme the Commission proposes that it be helped by a single executive agency which will consist of an extended version of the existing public health programme's executive agency incorporating the "consumer institute".

CONCLUSION

By linking health and consumer policy the Commission hopes to create synergies and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of EU actions as well as increasing the importance placed on these two policy areas. Moreover the Commission believes that health and consumer interests are at the very heart of people's daily lives and hopes that focusing on these issues is a way of reconnecting with the citizens of the EU.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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