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You are here : Home > News > Speeches > January 2005 > Speech by Mars Di Bartolomeo, Minister for Health and Social Security, to the European Parliament 's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.
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Speech by Mars Di Bartolomeo, Minister for Health and Social Security, to the European Parliament 's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.

Date of Speech : 20-01-2005

Place : Brussels

Speaker : Mars Di Bartolomeo

Policy area : Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs

Mr President,


It is indeed a great pleasure for me in my capacity as Luxembourg President of the "Health" Council to present the European Union’s work programme in our common area. I have recently started this Presidency at a promising moment. Last September, the new European Parliament started its activities, followed by a new Commission in November. As for my person, I became Minister for Health and Social Security in August 2004.

As a former Luxembourg member of parliament, it is a pleasure for me to attend your meeting today and to launch a dialogue between the two equal partners that are the European Parliament and the Council.

The Luxembourg Presidency has its own priorities regarding health without, however, omitting to ensure the continuity of the Council’s work. Together with the Commission and the European Parliament, I am totally dedicated to continuing and helping to implement the initiatives launched by preceding presidencies.

First of all, I would like to place the emphasis of the health policy on the concept of "prevention". Currently, health is often linked with negative notions, such as illnesses, accidents, restrictions and budgetary constraints.

But is there a more precious commodity than health for human beings? This rhetorical question formulated by Socrates 2,500 years ago is still pertinent today. I am convinced that we must make our citizens understand that health is THE sole irreplaceable capital in which we must invest in order to benefit in the future. It is a matter of changing the existing health paradigm by creating a more positive image. We must go further and outline the ‘healthy lifestyles’ which we know full well exist and which contribute to a better quality of life and longevity.

As ministers for health do not always have a forum for airing their views due to reasons of national sovereignty, there is no Community policy that is truly harmonized in the area of health. However, recent discussions on the mobility of patients, for instance, have nevertheless shown that there is a real need to come together at European level. In my opinion, the European Commission’s high-level group is the appropriate forum to discuss issues relating to the coordination of national health systems.

On the other hand, the directive proposal of the European Parliament and the Council on services in the internal market requires a higher level of harmony among us. At the Council, this text is discussed exclusively by the "Competitivity" Council, although a number of its provisions may have an impact on the functioning and the balance of the national health systems. It is true that there is nothing to obstruct freer provision of health services, if this is in the interests of patients and existing national structures. Although the public health sector is an economic sector in its own right, and important to the job market, its functioning is not in line with the pure reasoning of a liberal economic policy, where only free competition on the market guarantees efficiency. Let us remember that the "Health" service must guarantee the highest quality and free access irrespective of revenue. Therefore, we must remain vigilant!

Mr President, MEPs,

After these words of introduction, I should now like to move on to the specific dossiers that we aim to deal with at the "Health" Council under our Presidency.

With the participation of the ministers for health at the extraordinary "Foreign Affairs" Council on 7 January 2005, the Luxembourg Presidency has already underlined the importance it attaches to the health aspect of the catastrophe of the recent tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. During this Council meeting, my main message was that the Community contribution had to reinforce in a coherent manner the efforts deployed on site by the United Nations, and more particularly by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Currently, the humanitarian-aid and reconstruction activities take priority and, fortunately, no epidemic has been detected. I certainly intend to continue monitoring the situation and to inform, if necessary, my fellow ministers for health on any further developments in the area. It will be necessary to strengthen this joint step in future.

Furthermore, our collaboration with the WHO involves two other dossiers, including primarily the intergovernmental working group convened to prepare the first Conference of Parties at the Tobacco Convention, where I am committed to not only maintaining efforts deployed hitherto, but also to getting the message over more clearly in my own country.

In addition, with regard to the International Health Regulations, an instrument of WHO used for preventing and eradicating transmittable diseases, our Presidency would like to bring the review process of the regulations in order to submission for approval to the WHO’s World Health Assembly in May 2005.

I believe that the fight against transmittable diseases should be organised at both world and regional level. In Europe, the European Centre for the  Diseases Prevention and Control will be operational in Stockholm as from June, and will assume a key role in the Community policy on the anti-pandemic fight. In view of the danger that pandemics pose for the European population, I believe that it is incumbent upon the Member States to take all the prevention and protection measures necessary. One such step could be to develop a coherent system of common vaccination stocks at European level.

Moreover, I intend to support the European Commission in its efforts to develop a European health strategy, which should help us establish the future Community health policy. Given that I attach the same importance to such initiatives at both Community and national level, I have decided to organise a public debate on this issue at the next "Health" Council in June.

Mr President, you will no doubt have noticed that changing attitudes through the promotion of "healthy lifestyles" forms a cornerstone of my health policy.

For instance, obesity is a major scourge of our modern societies, the consequences of which may well cause serious public-health problems. By supporting and complementing the initiatives launched by civil society, I wish to back and promote the actions in favour of healthy food and regular physical exercise. Such non-regulatory initiatives must also be taken at European level in order to share the national "best practices", without implicating the necessary legislatives Community initiatives in any way.

Against this background, I totally support the Commission’s initiative which aims to launch a "European platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health" in spring 2005. To underline the importance of the fight against obesity, I intend to place the topic on the agenda of the "Health" Council to be held next June.

Now, I would like to talk about another scourge that has continued unabated for over two decades. Here, human behaviour is crucial, because AIDS is a matter of life or death. Today, we are faced with the destiny of some 40 million people infected with a disease that still remains deadly despite the existing medicines.

It is true that, on the one hand, we must make an all-out effort to develop new medicines and to find, let us hope, an effective vaccine against this disease.

On the other hand, however, we must raise a new awareness in the area of prevention: AIDS is a disease that can affect any one of us. We must step up our efforts and invest in awareness initiatives in order to bring about changes in behaviour that protect the young and the not-so-young. Such steps must be taken at a global level, because AIDS knows no borders. Therefore, we must strengthen our cooperation with those involved in development cooperation in order to tackle the problem together.

Mr President, MEPs, long time ago AIDS ceased a  to be a dossier limited to the health sector and has in effect become a world-wide phenomenon which concerns us all. For this reason, I have taken steps to have an AIDS point included on the agenda of the European Summit in June.

At Community level, the Commission intends to publish an AIDS action plan in the spring. One of the measures envisaged by the Commission which interests me greatly is the drawing up of a list of national "best practices" to help in the fight against AIDS.

Now, I have come to the legislative dossiers that concern us.

As regards the pharmaceutical aspect of our Presidency, the "paediatric medicine" regulation will require our full attention during the months that lie ahead. In view of the importance we attach to the health of children and young people, the Luxembourg Presidency wishes to make as much progress as possible between now and the June Council. To achieve this aim, it is clear that close cooperation with the European Parliament will be desirable, and indeed indispensable.

Another key area is "foodstuffs". Within this context, the Luxembourg Presidency wishes to continue the work undertaken by our predecessors on the regulations "nutrition and health claims" and "vitamin and mineral supplements".

First and foremost, I would like to emphasise that I support the proposal relating to nutrition and health claims made on Foods which is in keeping with our concept of "healthy lifestyles" and which plugs a loophole in Community legislation.

In view of the discussions held under the European Parliament’s most recent legislature, I would like above all to touch on the famous Article 4 of the proposal, which refers to nutritional profiles. Within the context of the debate organized by the Dutch Presidency at the "Health" Council in December 2004, I can confirm broad-based support for the introduction of such profiles on the part of ministers. I should like to go further and continue under our Presidency the reflections on the methods to be used to establish nutritional profiles. In order to do this, I shall be guided by the experience of the Member States which have already established them, and I shall certainly consult all the interested parties.

In parallel, we will continue the work on the proposal for a regulation on the addition of vitamins and minerals and containother substances to foods which, together with the "claims" proposal, forms a legislative package. Here, the aim is to define the conditions under which substances, such as minerals and vitamins, may be added to our food.

On these two legislative proposals, our aim is to reach a political agreement at the "Health" Council in June 2005, after the first reading in the European Parliament scheduled for May 2005. In a spirit of full cooperation with the European Parliament, I have already met two reporters from the Parliament and I intend to monitor closely the debates within your institution, in a bid to conclude a coherent and ambitious political agreement within the Council. I feel sure that we shall return to this issue during the debate that will follow.

The Luxembourg Presidency has just started working on a recent directive proposal from the Commission on food supplements, which aims to adapt European legislation on recent scientific and technical developments. On this more technical dossier, we wish to further the work of the Council in close cooperation with the European Parliament.

Before concluding, I would like to provide you with a brief overview of our main "Health" activities within the framework of the Luxembourg Presidency.

In April 2005, we will organise a Luxembourg conference on "patient safety", the results of which will, I trust, prove beneficial to the future UK Presidency.

An "e-Health" conference is being planned in Norway for May 2005, in cooperation with Norway and the European Commission.

Finally, a conference on "rare diseases" will be held in Luxembourg in June 2005, with the support of the European Commission and the French Association against Myopathies.

Mr President,


Thank you for your kind attention.

This page was last modified on : 24-01-2005

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