Friday 30 October 2015
Health Informal Council
An informal health Council meeting was held in Luxembourg on 24-25 September 2015 as part of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council formation. The UK was represented by a senior official.
Among the issues discussed were prevention, removing stigma, early diagnosis and investment in research. The UK’s work on dementia was recognised and there was agreement on the need for further work following the World Health Organisation (WHO) conference that was held earlier in the year in March.
Trans Fatty Acids (TFAs)
A variety of views were expressed about whether regulation or a voluntary approach should be taken towards trans fatty acids (TFAs). Most member states would await an upcoming Commission report on TFAs before taking a firm view. The UK outlined its national voluntary action to reduce TFAs and the importance of an evidence based approach. The Commissioner said that they were in the process of finalising the report and that it would be presented in December.
The UK outlined work it is undertaking with Syrian refugees in countries bordering Syria, called for a comprehensive approach to the crisis, and referred to the work of the Health Security Committee. The Commission called for solidarity and outlined the extra funding that had been allocated as well as a letter that had been sent to all Ministers on this issue.
A vast majority of member states argued strongly against the involvement of the European semester in healthcare. The UK welcomed the recent narrower focus of the semester and called for it to concentrate on sustainability and cost effectiveness. The UK also called for Health Ministers to be more involved in the Social Protection Committee process on matters relating to healthcare.
Cross Border Directive
Most member states were positive about progress that has been made on the cross-border directive, with a number suggesting that patients should be better informed about their rights. The UK welcomed the Commission’s report on the operation of the directive but added that, whilst the principles of the directive are sound, more needs to be done at EU level to clarify and simplify the interaction of this new legislation with existing patient mobility rules (the EU social security co-ordination regulations).
Foreign Affairs Council for Development
On 26 October, I attended the Foreign Affairs Council for Development in Luxembourg. The meeting was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini. She also hosted a joint lunch with Environment Minister to discuss the implementation of the agenda for Sustainable Development 2030. A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted will be deposited in the Library of the House for the convenience of Members.
The Council discussed how the EU could play a leading role at the forthcoming world humanitarian summit. A notable common thread was on the need for a new approach to funding; more genuine partnerships with affected governments, the private sector, civil society and diaspora; and the need for innovation. I led calls for better enforcement of international humanitarian law to protect civilians; a reformed approach to finance, blending public and private approaches and moving beyond initial emergency response to focus on education and livelihoods; and a bold approach to gender equality in humanitarian action, including a global co-ordinated approach to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. In addition to the exchange of views, Commission Vice President Georgieva presented the work of the UN high-level panel on humanitarian financing.
Migration, refugees and development
The Council discussion focused largely on preparation for the forthcoming Valletta summit, and in particular the emergency trust fund which was intended to be a key deliverable for the summit. I emphasized the UK’s view that the summit needs to demonstrate Europe’s credibility, leadership, and commitment to respond quickly to the serious problems posed by migrants crossing the Mediterranean. The UK has taken a leading role in pressing for a substantive discussion on tackling the root causes of migration, a mutual challenge faced by Europe and Africa—a lack of growth, jobs, opportunity in African countries—and the concrete actions needed to turn the situation around. I emphasised the need to review the Commission’s existing financial instruments to ensure they are flexible and fit for purpose for a rapid response to ongoing crises. I also pressed other member states to step up their own financial commitments to address the Syria crisis, alongside UK leadership.
Gender Action Plan
The Council adopted conclusions on the new gender action plan (2015-2020) (GAP), which the UK has been a key actor in shaping. I welcomed the new GAP as a landmark opportunity for the EU to take significant steps forward in delivering tangible results for women and girls across the world and pressed for its full implementation.
EU-Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) relationship (“post-Cotonou”)
The Council also discussed the future of the EU’s relationship with the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific group of states), with the expiry of the existing Cotonou partnership agreement set for 2020. This is an important opportunity for the EU to modernise its relationship with the ACP, so that it is relevant, forward-looking and consistent with agenda 2030. I called for the Commission to have a broad review, base policy decisions on the evidence of Cotonou’s impact and actively seek a wide range of views during the consultation period.
Implementation of the Agenda 2030
During lunch, in a joint session with Environment Ministers, we discussed the implementation of the recently-agreed 2030 agenda on sustainable development (the post-2015 development framework). I emphasized the importance of looking at the implementation of the agenda 2030 alongside the other major processes—including the mid-term reviews of the financial instruments and the Cotonou agreement—occurring over the next five years.
Any other business
The Council adopted several sets of Council conclusions, including on Afghanistan; the Horn of Africa action plan: and the 2015 report on policy coherence for development. In addition, the decision to open consultation with Burundi on restrictive measures under the EU-ACP (Africa, Caribbean, Pacific) partnership agreement was also approved. Details of these Council conclusions will also be placed in the Library of the House.