EU4Health and Horizon Europe budget cuts are a missed opportunity for innovation, research, resilient health systems and healthy citizens
The EU Health Coalition very much regrets the outcome of the European Council where health, research and innovation have been sacrificed in the overall budget negotiations. In May, when the European Commission proposed €9.4 billion to a new ambitious standalone EU4Health programme, our community felt that the day had come when the importance of health to European citizens was finally being heard and realised. Unfortunately, that day seems to have come and passed far too quickly with the conclusion of the European Council to reduce the budget to €1.7 billion, coming from the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). The financial envelope proposed for the implementation of the Horizon Europe programme for the period 2021-2027 has also been reduced to €80.9 billion, a budget significantly lower than the initial proposal of €94.4 billion put forward by the European Commission.
Earlier, we urged to not let the weight of COVID-19 dissipate without positive change – that health must be firmly preserved as a key priority in the aftermath of this COVID-19 crisis and beyond. The sentiment of ‘health IS wealth’ is felt stronger than ever across Europe – a major discordance compared to the Council’s agreement.
High expectations for action following COVID-19 remain: the time is now to implement long-needed changes in our health systems. We must be better equipped in our resilience and responsiveness to future known and unknown health challenges, including the impact of our ageing societies and the growing burden of non-communicable diseases, as well the emergence of other serious cross-border health threats.
The budget cut of Horizon Europe would put the EU’s strategic plans on hold. Also, this will undermine the fragile equilibrium between priorities and global challenges under Horizon Europe. Promising health research initiatives, such as the cancer mission, cross-border collaborations, research infrastructures and partnerships for health innovation and health systems, would be jeopardised.
The European Union’s long-term objectives should not be sacrificed for the sake of short-term recovery. The COVID-19 outbreak has emphasised the need to transform Europe into a true research and innovation hub, and to ensure that innovation is accessible and affordable to patients through collaboration and efficient and resilient health systems in order to tackle major health issues. In order to address the ongoing pandemic and future health challenges, Europe needs a long-term research ecosystem to sustain interdisciplinary networks, cross-border initiatives, health data infrastructures, robust collaboration, the vital role of innovative Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Europe, medical education and regulatory flexibility.
We call on the European Heads of State, the European Parliament and the Commission to retain a long-term strategic approach concerning health and research and innovation in Europe, building on lessons we have learnt from the current crisis, and to argue for an improved budget allocation for the EU4Health programme and Horizon Europe.
The discussions around the EU4Health programme and Horizon Europe and the future health agenda of the EU emphasise the need once again for close collaboration between all sectors and actors to ensure our healthcare systems and research environment can function to their best ability in saving and improving human lives. We must ensure that obtaining a healthy and equitable future for everyone in Europe is maintained as a priority.