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Directorate General Health and Consumers Affairs (DG SANCO), European Commission

The European Commission's Directorate General for Health and Consumer Protection (DG SANCO) was established in 1999. Its main office is in Brussels, but the public health directorate is divided between Brussels and Luxembourg. Around 700 staff work in the Directorate, of which, 120 are responsible for public health. Other directorates general cover health matters within their jurisdiction[1].

The overall mission for DG SANCO is: “Together with the Member States, the European Union aims to protect and promote the health of its citizens.” It aims to improve quality of life in the EU through policies, laws and programmes in its three main areas of activity; public health, food safety and consumer protection. The goal is to help make Europe's citizens healthier, safer and more confident by;

  • Empowering consumers
  • Protecting and improving public health
  • Ensuring food is safe and wholesome
  • Promoting EU food safety standards worldwide
  • Protecting the health of animals and plants
  • Promoting the humane treatment of animals

In order to enable good health for all; the main forms of governance currently used are the following:

- Legislation and regulation – the legal competence on public health was strengthened under article 152 of the Treaty of Amsterdam, but the EU has a limited mandate to adopt public health policies. Member States still adopt measures at a national level to regulate the organisation and delivery of health services, although the EU has a specific right to legislate on blood, organs and tissues (safety and quality of blood, blood derivates, human tissues and human cells used in medical treatments).

The main tool for producing better legislation and regulation is the impact assessment – a systematic and integrated approach to identifying and anticipating the potential economic, social and environmental implications of new proposals. Since 2003 more than 160 impact assessments have been carried out, enabling the Commission to base its policy and legislative initiatives on assessments of the consequences of its action. A common methodology has been developed for measuring the administrative costs associated with new initiatives and was incorporated into the Commission's guidelines on impact assessments[2].

- Self-regulation - there has been a shift away from legally binding instruments (i.e. regulations and directives) towards alternative regulatory methods, such as co-regulation and self-regulation by the social and economic actors concerned. This is expected to reduce costs and increase efficiency. Co-regulation and voluntary self-regulation can take many forms such as voluntary agreements, codes of conduct, charters, guidelines, harmonised standards etc.[3]

- Voluntary cooperation/Open Method of Co-ordination (OMC) - the Open Method of Co-ordination (OMC) - is becoming increasingly prevalent as a method of governance in the European Union. In contrast to the traditional, legalistic approach, it aims at co-ordination rather than harmonisation of national policies. It commits Member States to work together towards shared goals while respecting legitimate national diversity. Policies are determined at national level. This method can typically follow four stages: 1) Broad common objectives are agreed at EU level. 2) Member States draw up national policy strategies to achieve the agreed objectives. 3) The strategies are analysed and progress monitored using agreed indicators where possible, leading to a Joint Report signed by the Commission and the Member States (through the Council). 4) This report can lead to modifications of the objectives or particular emphasis on certain objectives in future strategies[4].

- EU financing arrangements, like the Community Action Programme for public health 2003-2008[5] (with a budget of euro 312 million) and EU initiated information campaigns like ‘Help for a life without tobacco' can be seen as supportive to the above legal and voluntary approaches.

- Provide accurate information and data on health and health systems by monitoring EU wide health statistics, sharing good practices among Member States and providing forums for public dialogue and information exchange, like the Working Party on lifestyle.

As a supranational entity, the EU's ambition is not to duplicate Member States efforts, but to concentrate on activities such as monitoring EU wide health statistics, sharing good practices among Member States and providing forums for public dialogue and information exchange. More directly, the EU oversees the quality of pharmaceuticals, blood, human tissue and human cells used in medical treatments, as well as animal health. Additionally, it carries out public education campaigns to address common EU-wide issues such as smoking, and it works to ensure that the public health protection is embodied in EU-wide policies and actions.

The EU is also responsible for coordinating the flow of aid from Member States and its own disaster relief and civil protection programs to those in need across the globe. The EU also coordinates multilateral responses with international organizations such as World Health Organization and other UN agencies.

The importance of the European Institutions, in EU decision-making, means that they are all important targets for lobbying activities. Since the members of the Council represent the Member States and the members of the European Parliament represent their local constituents, they are often most effectively targeted by national and local organizations.

[1] DG Environment (chemicals, pesticides, soil, air, water pollution, bio-diversity, nature reserves) DG Employment and social Affairs (health and safety at work, combating discrimination and poverty, maternity and parental leave), DG Internal market (recognition of professional qualifications), DG Competition (approving mergers eg Pharma companies), DG Development (EU is the world largest source of overseas aid), DG Education and Culture (sport, youth policies, student exchange programs), Dg Trade (TRIPS, GATS, access to medicines), DG Research (scientific research on genomics, food safety, causes of diseases, environmental health), DG Transport and Energy (energy generation, rail transport, road safety), DG Tax and Customs (excise duties on tobacco and alcohol), DG Agriculture (subsidies)

[2] For more information see; General Report on the Activities of the European Union 2006, European Commission and see:

[3] In 2006 Dg Sanco organized a Round table on Advertising Self-regulation between some Commission colleagues, some interested NGOs and representatives of the European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA). Self-Regulation in the EU Advertising Sector: A report of some discussion among Interested parties, European Commission, DG Sanco, July 2006

[4]Introduction to the European Institutions and EU Policy-Making Processes, AGE