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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Twentieth anniversary of the European Union health mandate: taking stock of perceived achievements, failures and missed opportunities – a qualitative study

Nicole Rosenkötter*, Timo Clemens, Kristine Sørensen and Helmut Brand

Author Affiliations

Department of International Health, CAPHRI, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, Duboisdomein 30, Maastricht 6229 GT, The Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:1074  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-1074

Published: 14 November 2013

Abstract

Background

The European Union (EU) health mandate was initially defined in the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. The twentieth anniversary of the Treaty offers a unique opportunity to take stock of EU health actions by giving an overview of influential public health related EU-level policy outputs and a summary of policy outputs or actions perceived as an achievement, a failure or a missed opportunity.

Methods

Semi-structured expert interviews (N = 20) were conducted focusing on EU-level actions that were relevant for health. Respondents were asked to name EU policies or actions that they perceived as an achievement, a failure or a missed opportunity. A directed content analysis approach was used to identify expert perceptions on achievements, failures and missed opportunities in the interviews. Additionally, a nominal group technique was applied to identify influential and public health relevant EU-level policy outputs.

Results

The ranking of influential policy outputs resulted in top positions of adjudications and legislations, agencies, European Commission (EC) programmes and strategies, official networks, cooperative structures and exchange efforts, the work on health determinants and uptake of scientific knowledge. The assessment of EU health policies as being an achievement, a failure or a missed opportunity was often characterized by diverging respondent views. Recurring topics that emerged were the Directorate General for Health and Consumers (DG SANCO), EU agencies, life style factors, internal market provisions as well as the EU Directive on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare. Among these recurring topics, expert perceptions on the establishment of DG SANCO, EU public health agencies, and successes in tobacco control were dominated by aspects of achievements. The implementation status of the Health in All Policy approach was perceived as a missed opportunity.

Conclusions

When comparing the emerging themes from the interviews conducted with the responsibilities defined in the EU health mandate, one can identify that these responsibilities were only partly fulfilled or acknowledged by the respondents. In general, the EU is a recognized public health player in Europe which over the past two decades, has begun to develop competencies in supporting, coordinating and supplementing member state health actions. However, the assurance of health protection in other European policies seems to require further development.

Keywords:
European Union; EU health mandate; Health policy; Assessment; Qualitative research