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We all know how it goes – you're completely engaged in your work, take a much-needed summer break, and then suddenly it’s September and the European Union Institutions return to their work - but you’re not completely sure what’s on the agenda anymore. So, now is a good time for us to take note of what to expect from the upcoming session, refocus on the policies most pertinent to our work, and evaluate the current agenda against the proposed agenda originally released almost a year ago. Indeed, in October 2020, the Commission released its 2021 Work Programme, with the following major health initiatives expected throughout the year:
- A revision of the Blood Directive and Tissues and Cells Directive (expected in Q4 2021)
- The establishment of a European biomedical research and development agency (expected in Q4 2021)
- The creation of the European health data space (expected in Q4 2021)
- An evaluation of Directive 2011/24/EU regarding patient rights in cross-border healthcare (expected in Q2 2022)
- A new occupational safety and health strategy framework (published June 28th, 2021)
- Continued incorporation of digitalisation into EU plans
The majority of the health-related initiatives were always scheduled for the fourth quarter, which means a few exciting months are coming up. All of the awaited projects have made some published progress, whether it be stakeholder discussions or public consultations. We eagerly await the outcomes of these discussions.
We do already know that the College of Commissioners plan to discuss Europe’s Digital Decade and HERA (European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority) immediately upon returning in early September, and address the Data Act in early December. The focus on Europe’s Digital Decade was cemented in June, when the Commission approved Horizon Europe’s 2021-2022 work programme, which budgeted 4 billion Euros for digital development and innovation. We also know that new Slovenian Presidency of the Council intends to focus on many of the same subjects, with additional attention being paid to the Beating Cancer Plan and artificial intelligence.
As we prepare to jump back into the whirlwind of policymaking, it will remain important to balance the immediate needs of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic with a longer-term health agenda. We must ensure that we do not forget the ongoing inequalities being further perpetuated by the pandemic, and advocate for forward-thinking policies that will respond to the many gaps left and created by the pandemic. It is certainly looking to be a busy fall for health policy and the pandemic alike.