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EC and WHO map ahead their partnership


23 Oct 2008


Social Europe & Jobs
Innovation & Enterprise
Health & Consumers
EU Priorities 2020

On 23 and 24 October, the European Commission and WHO are convening their annual Senior Officials Meeting. Representatives from 11 EC Directorates-General and from WHO (Headquarters and Regional Office for Europe) review the collaboration during the last year and agree on joint directions for action in 2009.


The scope of the debate
Health is present in a range of EU policy areas, that’s why the European Commission (EC) comes to this Brussels meeting with about 50 representatives from DG SANCO (health and consumer protection), RELEX (external relations), DEV (development), AIDCO (implementation development cooperation), ECHO (humanitarian aid), TRADE, AGRI (agricultural policy), RTD (research), ENV (environment), MARKT (internal EU market) and EMPL (employment and social affairs). They convene to discuss with WHO high-level officials and technical experts the issues at stake and the opportunities for joint action, already taken or lying ahead.

Topics of in-depth discussion
In the areas of food security, food safety and nutrition, WHO has rich expertise and experience, both globally and in the WHO European Region, and it is also clearly recognized by the EC and a key partner. Concretely, the food security discussions are around food aid, food distribution, malnutrition and food prices. A second part of the exchange focuses on food quality and nutrition, the joint actions at the European level on nutrition, obesity prevention, school fruits schemes and labeling. Lastly, a separate debate covers food safety issues and the numerous platforms, networks and actions through which EC and WHO join forces.

A topic of high interest for both partners is the cooperation they have within countries. At the 2007 Senior Officials Meeting, EC and WHO launched a one-year brainstorming exercise, whose results are being reported today. Through the course of the year, in consecutive meetings, EC and WHO have analyzed the existing current practices of their country-level collaboration, both positive and negative, have identified opportunities to improve this cooperation, where and when relevant. WHO/Europe can contribute to the country-level work of EC, relating to the EU grouping of countries that are WHO European Member States – the EU accession and candidate countries (DG Enlargement), the geographical neighbours of the EU (DG External Relations), the Central Asian republics (DG Development), but also of course the 27 Common Member States, the EEA and EFTA countries (for which all other DGs present at the meeting have a role). On the second day, the partnering organizations will focus on more technical issues: health information, communications, food and health, country-based work, health systems, communicable as well as non-communicable diseases.

The meeting will map ahead, for 2009, the main areas of joint interest, shared concerns and therefore actions.

The mandate
At its 56th session, the WHO Regional Committee for Europe (RC) affirmed enhanced partnerships as a strategic direction the Regional Office should follow till 2020. The EU was identified as a partner of a unique nature for WHO/Europe, the cooperation with whom should move towards better task-sharing and synergy. The Treaty establishing the European Community explicitly envisages a high level of health protection for the EU citizens in all Community policies and activities.

The context
The collaboration has taken place since the 1970s, based on areas of EC competence relating to public health in EU member states, as well as the EC global health agenda. Since 2000, a formal Exchange of Letters between the WHO DG and the EU Health Commissioner and the consequent signature of a Memorandum of Understanding, WHO and EC have agreed to work together “…not only for the Member States of the EU (all members of the WHO, but also for other countries”. Thus, nowadays the WHO/EC cooperation is based on two main strategic objectives/ pillars – to better “serve the needs of our common Member States” and to respond to global health challenges in a more strategic and comprehensive manner.

The action
The EC-WHO/Europe cooperation currently encompasses:
(a)    Policy dialogue and strategic cooperation on public health issues of European and global importance, particularly health security and health and environment.
(b)    Technical cooperation at global, regional and country levels on themes of mutual interest where working together can add value
(c)    Financial support to scale up and accelerate research/action in areas of common priority. 

The annual Senior Officials Meeting is the platform at which, every year, the EC and WHO overview the areas in which they work together, complementing one other’s actions in health. The cooperation is large-scale, covering both global and European affairs, in the context of both EU’s external and internal policies dimension.

For more information contact:
Dr François Decaillet
Senior adviser
WHO/Europe, Representation to the EU
14 Rue Montoyer, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
Tel: +322 5064662

Albena Arnaudova
Communications Adviser
WHO/Europe, Representation to the EU
14, Rue Montoyer, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
Tel.: +322 506 4658; Fax: +322 506 4666