"Zonder Fratsen" - What we can expect from the Dutch Presidency on health

It’s been ten years since the Netherlands last held the Presidency of the Council of the EU. In 2004 infectious diseases, cross-border mobility of health care professionals and priority medicines were top of the healthcare agenda. What can we expect this time round?   

With the Juncker Commission the healthcare policy agenda has certainly felt the impact of an EU that should be “bigger and more ambitious on big things, and smaller and more modest on small things[1].  The Dutch Presidency buys into this narrative by stating on its website that “it does not want the EU to deal with issues that the member states can organise perfectly well themselves. Examples include health care, education, pensions and taxation.”[2] 

At the same time, the wider healthcare debate at EU-level has not slowed down and the Dutch Presidency itself is planning a number of healthcare related events. Topics on the agenda of these upcoming events, include flexible market access mechanisms, pricing and reimbursement, preventing work-related cancer, dementia and e-health. 

A modest official EU health policy agenda in contrast with the significant debates taking place on a number of complex healthcare issues raises, the question:  how will the Dutch Presidency bridge this divide? 

Three observations stand out:

  • The Netherlands sees itself as a ‘leading nation’[3] in tackling AMR and are expecting all experts and EU health ministers on 10 February to join the AMR conference in Amsterdam.
  • Building on its pilot initiative for joint negotiations on prices of orphan medicines with Belgium and Luxembourg, the Netherlands is expected to drive cooperation and promote the exchange of information on pharmaceutical pricing between Member States.
  • Occupational health seems to be a main focus and is currently the only health related item on the official Presidency website. Better protection for employees against carcinogens in the workplace features as a priority for the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council.

Whilst the Dutch Presidency website has only a limited information on its healthcare agenda at this stage, the work on healthcare is expected to be much broader:

  • healthy people in a healthy environment, in particular addressing air pollution, drinking water, nanomaterials, microplastics, and biodiversity
  • disease specific work on dementia, building on the Luxembourg Council conclusions with a dedicated conference on dementia in May 2016
  • files such as medical devices that the Dutch Presidency inherits from the Luxembourg Presidency

 With all this, the Dutch Presidency healthcare agenda does not look that “light” after all, which may be why the Dutch Presidency opted for a ‘sober’ approach. As the Dutch foreign minister puts it, these six months will be approached with Dutch style: “realistic but optimistic, fresh and contemporary, efficient and persistent and without unnecessary frills (‘zonder fratsen’)”.[4]


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