Environment and health
Environmental problems such as air pollution do not stop at national borders. Partly under the influence of global developments, the EU has built up an impressive body of legislation, whereby the Member States are collectively seeking solutions for tackling cross-border environmental problems such as air pollution, water pollution and loss of biodiversity. A classic example of this is the European Emissions Trading Scheme. The aim of the world's largest carbon market is to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in a cost-effective manner. Furthermore, this kind of European approach guarantees fair competition between the Member States, which often apply different rules.
Objectives for Belgium
Belgium always endeavours to play a highly proactive and constructive role in the discussions around European environmental policy. It aims to reconcile of a high level of environmental protection with the principles of fair competition and the potential impact on the fabric of society, in accordance with the three pillars of sustainable development. Highly extensive harmonisation and a systematic application of the community method are key factors in this area. Belgium also attaches great importance to the precautionary and the polluter pays principles.
Ambitious air quality objectives bring various advantages in terms of improving public health. Nonetheless, our highly developed transport network and closely interwoven industrial fabric make it difficult for aa country like Belgium to achieve the objectives imposed by the EU around air quality, which are often very ambitious.
Since the Belgian Presidency in 2010, the prudent and efficient handling of natural resources and raw materials has been high on the European agenda. Concepts like sustainable management of materials, resource efficiency and the circular economy have since made inroads into the policies of Member States. Not only at a European level, but at a global level too, Belgium has been highlighting the need for more sustainable production and consumption patterns. In late June 2016, the EU Member States approved a comprehensive action plan for the circular economy, and Belgium is satisfied with the effective and efficient implementation of the various actions and measures included in it. Since then, a new action plan has been announced, in which there is great consideration for the link between the circular economy and the climate, a more coherent production policy with an enhanced role for the consumer and, finally, a need for a more preventative approach to waste policy.
The Seventh Environmental Action Programme (2012-2020) is the current European policy framework regarding the environment and forms the guiding principle for environmental policy in the EU. With this programme, the European Commission has sought to achieve an efficient and sustainable economy, in which nature is protected and the health and well-being of citizens are guaranteed. The current programme is drawing to a close, but in the broader context of the Green Deal, a new 8th environmental action programme has been announced, to Belgium's great satisfaction. This programme will be more focused, subscribing to the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the sustainable development goals.
Finally, the greening of the European Semester's process is a sustained point of horizontal interest for Belgium. In this respect, the European Semester should be a tool whereby synergies can be forged between the environment on the one hand, and policy areas such as industry, research and development and innovation on the other. In any event, the new European Commission has taken the first step towards such synergies, via the integration of the sustainable development goals into the European Semester.
The EU Member States largely organise their own healthcare for their citizens. The EU supplements national policy by establishing common objectives. A European approach to advantages of scale also leads to a pooling of resources, for example through the joint purchasing of vaccines. The EU provides help in tackling common challenges such as epidemics, chronic illnesses or an ageing population.
The EU policy in respect of health translates into a health strategy that includes a focus on prevention through the promotion of a healthier lifestyle, equal access to healthcare for everyone (irrespective of income, gender, race, etc.) and tackling serious international threats to health.
The European Union was hit very badly by the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020. Despite the limited powers that it possesses to formulate a response to this, the European institutions and agencies have nonetheless succeeded in taking coordinated short-term measures in different areas: the joint procurement of protective equipment, issuing guidelines relating to testing methods, contact tracing, approving flexible state support and economic measures to alleviate the social and economic consequences for the Member States – and, more particularly, families and businesses.
Objectives for Belgium
Belgium broadly supports the above points for consideration in the European policy.
Although, following the various state reforms, many health-related competences have been transferred to the regions and communities - including prevention and health education - the guidelines of Belgian policy mainly come from the federal level. The same applies to coordination at the European level.
Belgium joins in with the European-level efforts for sustainable, accessible and high-quality healthcare. In this regard, participates in the reflection on the application of technological tools and digital applications in healthcare, e.g. telemedicine and mobile health.
More thematic priorities in Belgian policy relate to the consequences of an ageing population, issues around dementia and the prevention of the consumption of harmful substances, in particular alcohol and tobacco. Belgium also pays attention to the issue of health inequalities between and within the Member States.