Most competence for action in the field of public health remains with the member states, but the European Union has the responsibility, set out in the treaty, to undertake certain actions which complement the work done by member states.
Article 152 of the EC treaty covers public health. It states that a high level of human health protection shall be ensured in the definition and implementation of all community policies and activities; and that community action should be directed towards improving public health, preventing human illness and diseases, and obviating sources of danger to human health and complement national policies. The article also encourages co-operation between the community and member states on public health.
In practice, EU work on public health often focuses on facilitating the exchange of information, knowledge and best practice among member states and covers many issues, from the general (eg health inequalities) to the specific (eg, action on alcohol use). Article 152(4) also sets out specific areas, e.g. standards for quality and safety for blood, in which legislative measures can be adopted by the Commission in this field. EU legislation that has a beneficial effect on public health has also been adopted on the basis of other parts of the treaty (eg, tobacco packaging legislation, based on Article 95 which relates to the internal market).