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EU: Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

Volume 692: debated on Tuesday 12 June 2007

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Health Services (Rosie Winterton) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 30 and 31 May. The health part was held on 31 May. Anne Lambert, deputy permanent representatvie to Brussels, represented the United Kingdom. The main item on the agenda was an exchange of views on the Commission consultation on smoke-free environments. Also covered was political agreement on a regulation on advanced therapy medicinal products, and general approaches on three food improvement agents regulations. There was adoption of a council resolution on EU consumer policy strategy, a council recommendation on injury prevention and conclusions on health promotion, HIV/AIDS and health services.

The health council coincided with World No Tobacco Day and the ongoing Commission consultation on smoke-free environments. In light of this, there was a lengthy exchange of views. Most member states intervened to give a description of their national measures to limit exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, which vary greatly in terms of scope. The UK stated the importance of a comprehensive ban on smoking in public places, given that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. The UK continued that the best way to achieve this was through binding legislation at national level, although a council recommendation at EU level, not a directive, could be a useful way to set out best practice for member states.

On the regulation on advanced therapy medicinal products, political agreement was reached on the proposal as a part of a first reading deal with the European Parliament. The UK was supportive of the compromise text.

On the food improvements agents package, the presidency led a general approach for the latest compromise regulations on food additives, enzymes for use in foods and the establishment of a common authorisation procedure for food improvement agents. The UK was supportive of this. The presidency concluded that further technical discussions were needed on the remaining regulation in the package of measures—a regulation on food flavourings.

The council adopted without significant discussion the recommendation on the prevention of injuries and the promotion of safety.

Council conclusions on health promotion by means of nutrition and physical activity were also adopted.

On health services, the council adopted the conclusions on healthcare across Europe—Community framework on health services. There was a brief discussion and the UK and Finland intervened to draw Ministers' attention to the need for a coherent approach on the social security regulation (883/2004) and European Court of Justice case law on patients seeking treatment abroad. Portugal committed to further discussions on health services during its presidency of the EU.

The council conclusions on tackling HIV/AIDS within the EU and neighbouring countries were adopted. The UK did not intervene but submitted a written statement supporting the conclusions and welcoming the priority the presidency have given to HIV/AIDS. Member states spoke about the need to involve civil society at large and to emphasise preventive work in this area. The presidency mentioned its discussions with the pharmaceutical industry on ensuring that the cost of drugs does not become a barrier to effective treatment.