European health ministers wrangle over funding

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 25 May 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:1319

Programmes sponsored by the European Union on reducing drug dependence and monitoring health standards have come a step closer to reality but now face a budgetary battle between governments and European MPs over their financing.

Last week EU health ministers gave their approval to a five year pan-European programme to tackle drug addiction designed to encourage the exchange of information between authorities on their experience in weaning people off drugs and ensuring that they do not relapse. The initiative will concentrate on educating vulnerable groups, such as young people, on the dangers of drugs. But despite their support for the programme the ministers have pruned the proposed funding for the various schemes over five years from the 28.5m ecu (£21.9m; $32.9m) favoured by MPs and the European Commission to 27m ecu. The difference is not vast, but the programme cannot go ahead until compromise figure is negotiated.

Similar difficulties face the monitoring scheme designed to gather information about existing health problems, their nature, and their extent in the union. The project will focus on factors ranging from lifestyles and living and working conditions to demographic trends. It also aims to provide a fuller picture of the incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and bronchitis in the union. Ministers have pared the original budget of 13.5m ecu down to 13m ecu but face their major challenge from the European parliament, which has set the ambitious figure of 20m ecu for the programme.

In a third area the EU remains as deadlocked as ever. The health ministers were again unable to agree an EU-wide ban on tobacco advertising. As current union president, Italy tried to secure support for the publicity ban to be extended to radio broadcasts and to publications aimed at people under 18 in addition to the television ban that already exists.

But the minority of countries that oppose further restrictions—Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Greece—successfully blocked the move. The continuing stalemate leaves a patchwork of rules in the union, with all states except Spain banning radio advertising and some—such as France, Italy, Finland, and Sweden—operating a near total ban.

The social affairs commissioner Padraig Flynn, noting that 500 000 people die every year of tobacco related illnesses in the EU, insisted that he would continue to push for a policy that would ban tobacco advertising except at the point of sale. “It is not going to go away, this proposal. Sooner or later it will be incumbent on all of those who now find it difficult to subscribe to the commission proposal to make that great effort,” he said.—RORY WATSON, European Voice

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