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Public health


The Single European Act and the emergence of the concept of a Citizens' Europe added new concerns such as the environment, health, and consumer protection to the Treaty of Rome, alongside the priority of securing free movement.

As far as health protection is concerned, the EU Treaty provided a major impetus by introducing a specific article on public health into the EC Treaty - Article 129 (now renumbered Article 152). However, since most power in this sector remains in the hands of the Member States, the Community's role is subsidiary and mainly involves supporting the efforts of the Member States and helping them formulate and implement coordinated objectives and strategies.

Problems as manifold as drug addiction or blood transfusion chains in the Member States have however highlighted the fact that national policies may sometimes have repercussions far beyond national frontiers. Certain public health problems call for an international response and hence close cooperation between the Member States.

The Treaty of Amsterdam is designed to improve matters by amending the wording of Article 152 (ex Article 129) of the EC Treaty.


Originally the Treaty of Rome did not contain any formal legal basis for measures in the field of public health. However, since 1997, a Council of the Ministers of Health began to meet on an occasional basis. These meetings resulted in acts such as "decisions of the Member States meeting within the Council" or non-binding resolutions. Following the signature of the Single European Act, instruments of this kind - whose legal impact is sometimes uncertain - began to proliferate. Public health was finally enshrined in the Treaty on European Union with the insertion of a "Public Health" Title, which opened the way to formal cooperation between Member States in this area. In parallel, Article 3 raised health protection to the rank of a Community objective.

Since then Community measures have focused on horizontal initiatives providing for information, education, surveillance and training in the field of health, the drafting by the European Commission of reports on the state of health in the European Community and the integration of health protection requirements into the Community policies. Moreover, global multiannual programmes have been mounted in priority areas such as cancer, drug addiction, AIDS and transmissible diseases.

Community action has also assumed other forms, for example in the fields of transmissible diseases, blood and tobacco and - in the context of completing the Single Market - through the adoption of legislation on veterinary and phytosanitary controls, or again, in the field of biotechnology, through the funding of research work.


The Community can now adopt measures aimed at ensuring (rather than merely contributing to) a high level of human health protection.

The new Article 152 (ex Article 129) of the EC Treaty has a wider scope than before. Among the areas of cooperation between member states, the new Article lists not only diseases and major health scourges but also, more generally, all causes of danger to human health, as well as the general objective of improving health.

The Council may also adopt measures setting high quality and safety standards for organs and substances of human origin, blood and blood derivatives. Veterinary and plant-health measures directly aimed at protecting public health are now adopted under the codecision procedure. This is a new departure, as the European Parliament previously only had a right to be consulted on the adoption of health measures linked to agriculture.

See also

For further details:

  • on Community action plans in the field of health