European Health Policy – progress through diversity

Europe can legitimately claim that it has been playing a pioneering role in health protection and innovation, quality and safety in health care. In the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU committed to ensuring a high level of health protection. This means that health protection aspects must be mainstreamed in all policy areas. The EU's activities are geared to using synergies in order to enhance public health and prevent and control disease and health risks.

European health policy is based on the close co-operation among the national health care systems in the EU Member States. It is guided by the principle that the diversity of the historically evolved national health care systems is to be safeguarded and the competency to freely organise them may not be unnecessarily restricted.

Member States' responsibility - complementary EU competences

European health policy is premised on the Member States having the sole national responsibility for:

  •     health policy-making,
  •     the administration of their national health care system and
  •     health care provision, including the financing and scope of services.

The EU's role is limited to complementing the Member States' policies, promoting their co-operation and supporting their activities, where necessary. A case in point would be, for instance, the sharing of good practices on patient safety and the pooling of highly specialised medical resources in European reference networks, especially for rare diseases. The most important financial tool for implementing the EU's health strategy and promoting co-operation among the Member States is the EU Health Programme.  

The Federal Ministry of Health is campaigning for practices that have proven their benefit in Germany to be disseminated and used across Europe. This calls for close coordination between the Member States and the EU institutions.

EU legislation: Health protection and the internal market

European legislative action on health protection is taken only if the aims pursued cannot be achieved by national provisions alone (subsidiarity). Moreover, the principle of proportionality must be observed as well. Cases in point are, for instance:

  • the prevention and control of cross-border health threats,
  • patient mobility throughout Europe,
  • the free movement of health care providers,
  • measures to establish high standards of quality and safety for:

    • organs and substances of human origin,
    • medicinal products and medical devices, as well as
    • human health protection in respect of veterinary and plant protection measures.  

In areas that relate to the smooth functioning of the Euro-pean internal market, the EU legislates to harmonise the legal provisions of its Member States.  

Whenever it comes to deliberating and implementing such legal acts, this Ministry strives to ensure that the high level of health protection in Germany is safeguarded and even implemented in other Member States.  

Sustainable health care systems

The health care systems in Europe are part of the wider social security systems. These have historically evolved with distinct national identities and reflect Europe's cultural, economic and social diversity. These systems differ, sometimes considerably, both in terms of financing and service structures and in terms of regulatory structures.  

By adopting the Europe 2020 Strategy, the Member States have set themselves concrete aims for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Health has been enshrined as a cross-cutting objective, mainly in the areas of:

  •     "financial sustainability" and  
  •     "combating poverty and social exclusion".

The Federal Ministry of Health embraces the core objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy and has been campaigning on the European level for health care systems to be placed on a sustainable basis.   

Horizontal topics

The EU has legislative competencies in other areas that can affect the health care system.

These are, inter alia:

  • health protection at the workplace (German lead agency: Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs),
  • consumer protection (German lead agency: Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection)
  • data protection (German lead agency: Federal Ministry of the Interior)