Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU: what to expect for cardiovascular health and SHD?

The promotion of cardiovascular health is increasingly high on the political agenda. This is the main conclusion we can derive from the 18-month Programme of the Council of the EU issued by the incoming trio of Spanish, Belgian and Hungarian presidencies. 

For the first time, the joint strategic agenda of the Council of the EU recognises the relevance of cardiovascular diseases and the value of European Union’s policies in this regard: 

“The trio will work on supporting European health strategies inter alia on mental health, cardiovascular disease and rare diseases, as well as the global health initiative.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic and the stress on healthcare systems and people’s health demonstrated the need for a new era of non-communicable diseases policy. So far, the European Union, mainly through actions taken forward by the European Commission, had worked intensively on cancer control. We are currently witnessing a shift into more non-communicable disease spaces beyond cancer and including cardiovascular health. It is worth noting that the trio Programme outlined above does not include any mention to cancer, as the European Commission already enacted during its current mandate the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, giving way now to introducing new policy areas to the priorities of the emerging European Health Union. 


The need for concrete actions 

But what does it mean for European citizens that the trio Programme introduced cardiovascular diseases among its political priorities? 

The rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU, which every six months passes to a new country of the bloc, holds a testimonial role in coordinating the work of the institution as a co-legislator of the EU. However, it also affects how legislative files and political priorities are included in the agenda of the institution. In light of the increasing political role of the European Council (which also represents the countries of the EU, but on a leadership level) to shape the agenda and direction of the European Union as a whole, a role especially reinforced since the pandemic, the political priorities of the rotating Presidency are still relevant to advance the European Union’s agenda on specific policy areas. 

In other words: if a topic is considered a policy priority, most certainly the European Union will start working on it at some point, for instance by starting preparatory or supporting actions by the European Commission in the area of health policy. 

The inclusion of cardiovascular disease as a policy priority for the elaboration of European health strategies is certainly a positive move. However, work must now start to deliver on such a strategy. 

Spain, the first country to take part of the current trio, has established in its own six-month priorities the need to “complete a European Health Union that enables us to respond together to the health challenges of the future”, with three priorities on health: “improving the protection of vulnerable groups in the European Union, fostering preparedness and response initiatives for facing new health alerts, and aligning the European health agenda with the 2030 Agenda and the One Health approach”. 

Unfortunately, this does not include a specific commitment or deployment of steps towards the elaboration of European health strategies including on cardiovascular health, as vowed by the trio of Presidencies. The next countries holding the presidency, namely Belgium and Hungary, will have to take up the task and make tangible progress towards an EU Plan on Cardiovascular Health. 

On a positive note, some important progress on the political agenda will be made during the six-month Spanish Presidency between July and December 2023. Recently, the Spanish Ministry of Health confirmed that the Presidency will organise a high-level event about chronicity, cardiovascular disease and health promotion in the city of Zaragoza. This event will mark a timely opportunity to discuss among national and European stakeholders the importance of tackling these conditions, which heavily affect the health of citizens, particularly the elderly. The SHD Coalition remains committed to working on this conversation, and will contribute to advancing political awareness on the need to prioritise tangible actions to help all patients with structural heart disease in Europe.