EU Leaders sacrifice one-fifth of bloc’s health funds in support of Ukraine

EU Leaders sacrifice one-fifth of bloc’s health funds in support of Ukraine

A decision by EU leaders to re-deploy €1bn from Europe’s largest health programme to finance the aid package for Ukraine was met with shock from health stakeholders.

A portion (€10.6bn) of the €50bn plan for Ukraine approved by EU leaders meeting for a special summit today (1 February) will be funded by reassigning money from other financial envelopes of the bloc’s long-term budget to reduce the impact on national budgets.

“I’m very satisfied that we got 80% of the funding we asked for. We had certainly some difficult choices to make, but we have a very good result,” Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told a press conference after the meeting.

In the context of this redeployment, €1bn will be shaved from the unprecedented €5.3bn funding line adopted for EU4Health in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The programme, which runs from 2021 to 2027 and is considered the financial arm of the European Health Union, was already halved in 2020 during EU budget negotiations from an original proposal by the commission for €9.4bn.

It aims at funding initiatives to reinforce the EU’s crisis preparedness as well as long-term health challenges. The working programme for 2024 will devote up to €752.4m towards the rollout of key digital initiatives such as the European Health Data Space.

European Parliament president Roberta Metsola expressed concerns on the approach adopted by leaders.

“This package pulls money out of programmes our citizens depend on and which member states agreed on a few years ago,” she said, adding that, with the elections in sight, the EU should boost rather than reduce funding for health and research.

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The leaders’ decision left health stakeholders shocked.

Milka Sokolovic, director general of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), said that cutting 20% of the whole programme “is a shockingly shortsighted decision by the Council”.

She said it showed “the speed with which the EU leaders have apparently unlearned the lessons from the greatest health crisis the Union has faced, leaving its citizens without EU support to protect their health security and human right to health.”

“These cuts are extremely disappointing and difficult to comprehend, as the post-COVID recovery precisely requires strong and sustained investment in health and healthcare systems,” Claudia Louati, head of policy at the European Patients Forum (EPF), told Euronews.

Health civil society organisations, including EPHA and the EPF, have joined forces to ask the European Council to reverse the decision in a letter addressed to EU leaders ahead of the summit. “Clearly, our call fell on deaf ears,” said Louati.

“This is a sad signal ahead of the European elections and shows the importance of continued advocacy to keep health and patients’ access to safe and high-quality care high on the political agenda,” she said.


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