Environment Council discussions on air quality legislation
The debates on the clean air package are ongoing. As a background, the European Commission proposed a new package on air quality, in December 2013, including:
(1) a new clean air programme for Europe aimed to ensure that existing standards of air quality are met in the short term, and new objectives are set for the period up to 2030;
(2) a revised National Emission Ceilings Directive with stricter national emissions ceilings for six main pollutants;
(3) a new Directive to reduce pollution from medium-sized combustion installations.
The last meeting to date on the package on air quality took place on June 12th but the results of the Council discussion are not satisfactory: several national ministers showed lack of commitment in fighting air pollution and noted that the foreseen targets are too ambitious and not cost-effective.
It is worth to mention that the Commission has already launched infringement procedures against 17 Member States for their failure to meet the PM10 limit values, and several months ago an infringement procedure was also launched against United Kingdom for its failure to ensure compliance with NO2 limit values.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik has also showed his dissatisfaction with the Member States position:
“Each and every country practically says that ‘these policies are not for me’. Even though these policies are the most cost effective and beneficial to people and the economy. What we are proposing is ‘let’s cut these things and there will be much less people ill’.”
According to the European Environment Agency, more than 90% of Europeans living in urban environments are exposed to levels of air pollution considered dangerous to human health. Air pollution is the number one environmental cause of premature death in the EU, responsible for ten times the toll of road traffic accidents; moreover, it is significantly contributing to the growing burden of chronic diseases, including asthma, allergy and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In particular, living near polluted roads could be responsible for about 15-30% of all new cases of asthma in children; and of COPD in adults 65 years of age and older. Air pollution is significantly worsening allergy symptoms too, by producing more aggressive pollen grains.
Together with other non-governmental organisations working in the environmental field, EFA is advocating for stricter requirements, sector legislations and enforcement of existing measures that will protect public health of European citizens.
To have more information about how air quality affects our health, please visit the “Know your air for health” website.
Every six months, a Member State of the European Union holds the Presidency over the work of the Council of the EU. During this time, the country is responsible for organising EU meetings, setting the Union’s political agenda and ensuring its development, integration and security.
Greece was presiding the Council during the first semester of 2014, and from the 1st of July until the end of 2014, Italy is taking the lead. The preliminary priorities of the Italian Presidency include the following aspects:
1. Institutional set-up of the Union: enhancing the democratic components of EU decision-making procedures, ensuring growth and employment, focusing on digital agenda.
2. External action and trade: Western Balkans accession discussions, enhancing EU’s common defense policy, signing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement (TTIP) with the United States.
3. Industrial policy: elaboration of a plan for European small and medium enterprises.
4. Migration: strengthening the EU areas of freedom, security, justice and common migration policy.
5. Link to Expo 2015: Milan 2015 Expo is a universal exposition whose main topic is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”, to be held in Italy in 2015. It is therefore likely that one of the Italian Presidency priority areas will also be food policy, particularly food labelling, control of the food chain and nutrition.
6. Taxation matters: reform of the VAT systems will be considered as a priority.
Unfortunately, health is not among the draft priorities, nor are environmental measures. During the next semester, important dossiers will be agreed upon (for instance the new regulation on medical devices) or discussed for the first time (such as the Commission’s proposals to reduce air pollution in the European Union) and the input of the Italian Presidency will therefore be paramount to ensure that European citizens’ health will be considered as the number one priority.
Public consultation on food allergy
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has launched a consultation on a draft opinion on the evaluation of allergenic foods and food ingredients for labelling purposes. The draft opinion includes sections on the prevalence of food allergies, cross-reactivity, doses observed to trigger adverse reactions in sensitive individuals and especially approaches used to derive individual and population thresholds for selected allergenic foods. Interested parties are invited to submit written comments by August 8th 2014. For more information please visit: http://bit.ly/1noUDca. EFA will respond and provide the perspective of patients with allergy and will continue advocating for strengthened allergen labelling at EU level, namely through an EFA public event on food allergy that will take place at the European Parliament in September.
Patient Safety Package
On June 19th, the European Commission published a patients’ safety package in order to review the progress made since 2012 in terms of patients’ safety, as well as to highlight the existing barriers. The package includes the following documents:
Despite some significant progress in terms of development of policies and programmes on patients’ safety, enhancing reporting and learning systems on adverse events, as well as patients’ empowerment, there is still a need to increase patients’ safety and quality of care. The report contains some recommendations on how to improve current situation that add up to the 2009 Council recommendations.
The survey was conducted between November and December 2013 in all 28 EU Member States. The results showed that 53% of EU citizens think that it is likely that patients could be harmed by hospital. 27% confirmed that they or their family members experienced an adverse event while receiving healthcare and 46% felt an increase in patients’ empowerment.
The public consultation on patients’ safety and quality of care took place between December 2013 and February 2014, the results show more than 90% of respondents see patients’ safety as an issue in the EU. Involvement of health professionals, patient organisations, the EU cooperation and binding national laws are considered as the most effective measures to improve patients’ safety. The majority of contributors pointed out that the enlargement of the scope of the EU action from patient safety to wider quality of care has a great beneficial potential.