Bulgarian Presidency Priorities
In the early hours of January 1st 2007, the Bulgarian President at the time, Georgi Parvanov, described the country’s accession to the European Union as a “heavenly moment”. Now, more than 10 years later, Bulgaria is about to take the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first time. A historical moment for the Balkan country, which will aim at showing Europe they are, indeed, fit for the job. In a time of internal political instability (8 governments in the past 10 years), the Bulgarian Government Borisov III established a specific ministerial position for the Bulgarian Presidency, currently held by Lilyana Pavlova.
Now, in the last months of 2017, EU officials are in expectation of the final programme of the Republic of Bulgaria for January – June 2018. Here, I dig into this draft programme and highlight what this tells us about EU priorities in the health sector.
Key areas of focus
The present draft Bulgarian programme addresses the three core areas of Consensus (I), Competitiveness (II) and Cohesion (III). From security and migration to a sustainable and future-orientated environment, the draft has а wide range of topics, suitable for everyone – Something for everybody, as Bulgarians like to say. Of course, health is not omitted, but will it really stand out amongst such a colorful pallet of ideas?
Health protection and performance
Under the Future of Work in a Fairer Europe (Europe of Competitiveness section), the programme pays attention to the “Protecting health and improving the health performance of EU citizens by providing access to effective and innovative medicines at an affordable price and stimulating healthy eating amongst children; promoting physical activity; ensuring healthier and safer working condition”1. Access to effective and innovative medicines at an affordable price has been on the political agenda in Brussels for a long time and it perfectly makes sense for a country like Bulgaria to pay attention to it, as their financial resources, in comparison with western EU countries, are smaller. In a time, where Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Austria are looking for further medicines cooperation, it is fit that the topic is on the Bulgarian radar. In fact, already Bulgaria and Romania have already signed in 2016 an agreement on negotiating expensive medicines discounts. Other central European countries with similar purchasing power have also considered joining in.
Furthermore, during a debate in November with European Economic and Social Committee members in Sofia, focused specifically on the priorities of the Presidency, the following areas were touched upon: policy for early childhood development; integration of people with disabilities; opportunities for employment and social inclusion. This is also in line with the upcoming Work-Life Balance Directive, which first draft, according to Brussels’ bubble gossip, is expected soon, as the aim is still for the text to be voted before the end of the European Parliament mandate.
Key concerns in the field of health
However, despite admirable intentions, there are still questions on the implementation of such objectives in a mountain of aims, which are considered just as relevant – e.g. migration and security, or even the Schengen accession, which has been on-hold for the past few years both for Bulgaria, and also Romania. No doubt, and in some part due to the 6-month advancement of the Presidency due to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom following Brexit, the picturesque first draft of the programme only suggests at this point a limited preparedness for the next months, which is not a good sign for the health sector. All EU citizens most certainly need political commitments in the form of concrete actions, especially Bulgarian patients. With yet another Bulgarian Minister of Health being replaced (last appointed on was on 10 November – Kiril Ananiev) and less than 2 months to “take the wheel”, Bulgarian actions in the field of health have a lot to prove to be classified again as “heavenly moments”.
1 Draft Program of the Republic of Bulgaria For the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, available at: http://www.eu2018bg.bg/bg/view/podgotovka-na-bulgarskoto-predsedatelstvo/prioriteti%20/draft-programme-en