European Union’s potential to deal with global health issues and challenges is untapped and, according to experts, this is despite the fact the recent Ebola crisis and immunization campaigns demonstrated that Europe’s role in addressing such problems is indispensable. Exports say that internal discrepancies and “suspiciousness” of each other are the main obstacles to getting more involved and thus having more impact on the global health debate. Ilona Kickbusch, the director of the global health program at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, says that boundaries between “domestic” and “foreign” health policies are becoming more and more blur. “There is an overlap which refers to issues that require collective action,” she added at the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) that took place last week.
Ms Kickbusch, a former professor at Yale University, urged European states to “come together” in order to come up with an idea how the EU can increase its impact on the global health debate. She also argues that there is a global power shift going on, with changing alliances on gender equality and human rights. This, in her opinion, requires more powerful internal communication among EU member states. At the same time, she adds, Europe should always keep in mind its political climate as the global health agenda is getting increasingly political, such as universal health coverage, equality, and redistribution.
According to another leading expert in the field, Louise van Schaik, who is a senior research fellow at Clingendael Institute based in the Netherlands, EU member states are increasingly aware of benefits stemming from cooperation with the European Commission or the World Health Organization (WHO). Yet, many tend to concurrently see public health as a national issue. Therefore, they are often afraid of losing authority in decision-making on health policy issues. Mr Schaick also stresses that the process of EU coordination in external places, such as the WHO, is mostly value added for member states but national governments are still unwilling to accept “foreign people taking care of health”. ”They are worried because since the EU pays more to the budget, they also want their share of the power. They want to be more powerful and of course this also creates some kind of opposition,” he added.