Health threats: boosting EU readiness and crisis management 


New EU programme EU4Health aims to strengthen Europe’s health systems to respond better to future major cross-border crises, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Covid-19 outbreak has shown the need for EU countries to better cooperate and coordinate in times of crisis and to strengthen the EU’s capacity to respond effectively to new cross-border health threats.

Drawing on the lessons learnt, a new EU health programme named EU4Health aims to fill the gaps revealed by the pandemic. Member states are primarily competent for health policy, but the EU can complement and suport national measures and adopt legislation in specific sectors.

Find out more about EU health policy.

Besides better protection against and management of crises by strengthening member states’ health systems and delivering better care, the EU4Health programme also aims to improve health and foster innovation and investment.

The three main priorities of EU4Health: 
  • Protection of people from serious cross-border health threats 
  • Improved availability of medicines 
  • Stronger health systems 

EU4Health is part of the Next Generation EU recovery plan presented by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on 27 May in plenary. In a resolution on the post-2020 EU budget revision and economic recovery plan, adopted on 15 May, MEPs had insisted on the creation of a new stand-alone European health programme.

In a debate with Commissioner Stella Kyriakides on 28 May, the environment and public health committee welcomed the ambitious plans, as Parliament has consistently promoted the establishment of a coherent EU public health policy. In a resolution adopted on 17 April, Parliament called for a dedicated budget to support national healthcare sectors during the crisis, as well as for investment post-crisis to make health-care systems more resilient and focused on those most in need.

The programme will cover the 2021-2027 period, but all measures relating to the post crisis recovery are set to be applied in the first years.

Tackling cross-border health threats

The programme aims to strengthen prevention, preparedness, surveillance and response in crisis times and improve coordination of emergency capacity. It aims to build reserves of medicines and medical supplies, healthcare staff and experts and provide technical assistance.

RescEU, which is part of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, will continue to provide rapid reaction and focus on direct crisis response capacities, while EU4Health would include strategic medical stockpiles for longer-term use and a reserve of medical staff who could be mobilised in case of a crisis.

Making medicines and medical supplies available and affordable

The EU wants to support efforts to monitor shortages of medicines, medical devices and other healthcare products relevant in a crisis and limit the dependency on imports of medicines and active pharmaceutical ingredients from non-EU countries. It also aims to boost innovation and more environmentally friendly production.

Strengthen health systems and healthcare workforce

National health systems should become more efficient and resilient by: boosting investment in disease prevention programmes; supporting the exchange of best practices; global cooperation; and improving access to health care

One health approach 
  • EU4Health builds upon the one health approach  
  • It recognises that human and animal health are interconnected, that diseases may be transmitted from humans to animals and vice versa and must therefore be tackled in both; and that the environment links humans and animals. 

Tackling long-term challenges

Among the other issues EU4Health aims to address are:

  • Providing affordable good quality healthcare to all, by removing health inequalities
  • Scaling up the use of digital innovations
  • Tackling non-communicable diseases by improving diagnosis, prevention and care, in particular cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, mental health (the goal is to reduce premature mortality by one third by 2030)
  • Advocating the prudent use of antibiotics and fighting antimicrobial resistance
  • Improving vaccination coverage rates in member states
  • Expanding successful initiatives, such as the European Reference Networks connecting healthcare professionals to support patients affected by rare diseases
  • Tackling the impact of environmental pollution and demographic changes, including an ageing population, on public health

What will be funded?

The European Commission proposes to invest €9.4 billion from the EU's next long-term budget in the EU4Health programme, this is 23 times more than health funding for 2014-2020.

EU4Health will strengthen national systems by funding initiatives such as: 
  • Tailor made support and advice to countries 
  • Training for healthcare professionals for deployment across the EU 
  • Audits of member states’ preparedness and response arrangements 
  • Clinical trials to speed up the development of medicines and vaccines 
  • Cross-border collaboration and partnerships 
  • Conducting studies, data collection and benchmarking 

Further investment in health will be provided through other EU programmes including the European regional development and cohesion funds for medical infrastructure, Horizon Europe for health research and innovation, ESF+ for training and support for vulnerable groups in accessing healthcare.

Next steps

Parliament and the governments  of EU countries will negotiate the Commission’s EU4Health proposal as part of the agreement on the EU's next long-term budget. The programme is expected to be launched as of 1 January 2021.