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[Session 1] Opening address & Keynote speech

With the support of the Scottish Government.

Today, European citizens are asking themselves what is happening regarding official European cooperation on health policy. Opinions are far from unanimous on the future of the European Health Union. The overall objectives and goals of a reformed European health policy, its actions, and instruments, are yet to be agreed. The Symposium’s opening keynote speech looked into the direction of what could happen next.

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Donna Henderson, EHTEL President and the Scottish Government, Scotland

A warm welcome was offered to all attendees, both physically present and online. Ms Henderson introduced the Symposium’s keynote speaker former European Commissioner, Mr Vytenis Andriukaitis. 

Digital transformation and the EU Global Health Strategy

Vytenis Andriukaitis, Former EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety (2014-2019), Lithuania



The European Global Health Strategy introduces a robust “health-in-all-policies” approach to ensure that a wide variety of policies genuinely contribute to health goals. It identifies three key enablers for better health, namely digitalisation, research, and a skilled labour force with concrete actions to advance globally in these areas.


Former Commissioner Andriukaitis offered the Symposium a positive, new narrative and agenda for the future of Europe. At the same time, he emphasised the importance of Europe’s technological independence and future standing in the world. Hence, having a “Europe fit for the digital age” is a key development and step forward. The role of policy is vital in the European Union (EU)’s digital vision alongside its key enablers.

Europe’s healthcare systems are in transition. In winter 2020-2021, European citizens viewed health, and the economic situation, as being the two most important challenges facing the EU. 


As a result, rather than simply focusing on a well-functioning European market, a call has been launched for a stronger European Health Union, supported by an explanatory memorandum and position paper. Likewise, there have been appeals for amendments of the European Treaties.


The speaker regretted the relative marginality of health in the European Treaties as well as in the European policy semester calendar. For this reason, he and colleagues are making an appeal for a European Health Union: A Blueprint for Generations.

In his own words, “Europe needs more shared competencies and more cooperation for health”. Although results will probably not take place without a struggle, “If Europe will deliver on the promise to develop a genuine European Health Union, we will see more saved lives, more solidarity, [and a] higher level of competitiveness [in] Europe.” As a consequence, “We need to elaborate a concept of an EU Health Union going beyond a narrow proposal focused on crisis preparedness and response”. 


Five reasons were outlined for moving forward with Treaty changes – one of which is security and strategic autonomy including on health. Among core items on a short list for essential Treaty changes are public health and digital policies and cyber security. Indeed, a plea could be made – in an updated Treaty – for a specific new chapter on digital.

Such a Union would be about strengthening the powers of Member States, the European Commission, the European Parliament, and national parliaments in various different areas related to health. Pan-European cooperation can create added value in pan-European goods in health. 

Of especial interest for EHTEL members and friends – with their community interests in tools, techniques, and stakeholder involvement – are therefore that former Commissioner Andriukaitis made the following pleas. He called for a rich toolbox of actions that could assist with digital transformation, including (AI) principles; various regulatory instruments; funding instruments; the provision of services of public interest; and industrial strategies. He also emphasised that health is a multi-dimensional issue with different actions best suited to playing different roles. Going forward there could ultimately be pan-European cooperation on health based on a variety of shared competences.

Mr Vytenis Andriukaitis is chair of All Policies for a Healthy Europe (AP4HE): an initiative totally committed to improving European citizens’ well-being. It covers a wide variety of sectors relevant to this appeal. EHTEL is one of the initiative’s knowledge partners. Alongside 20+ other signatories, EHTEL fully supports the initiative’s manifesto.

To conclude, now is the time to include a new pillar of activity – a Digital, Health, and Well-being Union. Hence, there is a need to be ambitious about this goal, and take advantage of the window of opportunity to act that exists between now and late spring 2024. An upcoming major opportunity is likely to include plans for the European Health Data Space.


NHS Scotland



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