While newspaper headlines and some segments of the public question the future of the European Union, the reality is that the EU’s impact is growing, both at a national level in its 27 member states, and globally. The EU is the largest market in the world in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). EU political institutions develop regulations and directives that are transposed into national laws that affect a half-billion people living in the EU member states. So how can organizations and industry with an interest in health engage with the EU institutions which, for many, seem distant and far removed from our daily existence? And for that matter, especially when it comes to healthcare issues?
The short answer—it’s not that easy! The first thing to remember is that the 27 member states are entirely responsible for financing, organizing, managing and running their health services and national health policies—and they protect this fiercely. The EU has limited competency when it comes it health, but it plays an important role in:
- Standard setting and regulation in specific areas such as pharmaceuticals, medical devices, blood products, and organs for transplantation
- Ensuring that there is a high level of health protection in all EU policies and actions
- Assisting member states to coordinate their actions and collaborate on health
- Taking joint action with governments on “threats to health,” particularly where there is a cross-border dimension
There are a number of important players to consider: the European Commission (effectively the civil service), the European Parliament, with its democratically elected Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), and the European Council, which is where the member state government representatives appear. You need to be aware of how they interact with one another, who they are hearing from, and what they are talking about. So with this in mind, what are my top tips?
- Know the key players in the institutions, where they sit in the debate, and where they fit into the legislative process. Talk to them early and aim to build long-term relationships.
- You need to build credibility and alliances—at EU level, this needs to be multinational, cross-party, multistakeholder engagement.
- Engage the member state governments in their country and in Brussels through their EU missions, and work with your stakeholders to do the same.
- Now more than ever, there are limited national budgets and EU-level resources, so taking on single-issue, disease-specific approaches will be more challenging. A prevention angle, which helps alleviate the problem, is more likely to resonate.
- Work closely and respectfully with others. Don’t approach politicians with an overwhelming shopping list of topics and issues, and little understanding of the processes involved. Keep in mind they are dealing with a wide variety of issues on a day-to-day basis.
- People have very limited time—don’t waste it. Campaigns need to be tailored to the audience—mass market communications, post-card campaigns are archaic and annoying.
- Use targeted social media to support your messages. Many politicians and advocacy groups are online using Twitter. Get involved in these conversations in a meaningful way.
- Above all, be transparent about who you represent and the issues you are interested in—politicians and officials will never speak to you again if you mislead them.
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