Strasbourg, or Stress-burg, as it’s known to insiders – Whatever you call it, it’s a circus

18 December 2009

Strasbourg, or Stress-burg, as it’s known to insiders – Whatever you call it, it’s a circus

Last week we were in Brussels, welcoming visitors from animal welfare group ‘Dierenbescherming’ (Animal Protection), environmentalists from the Dutch Foundation for Nature and Environment, and consumers’ organisations, but this week we gathered in Strasbourg. While the Netherlands disappeared under a carpet of snow, Euro-MPs and their staff were stuck in the fishbowl of the European Parliament’s building complex. With thousands crammed into limited space, it’s hard not to find yourself distracted by all sorts of peripheral issues. On the other hand there is an advantage to this circus: it’s easier here to find opportunities to talk with leading officials and policy-makers. After all, they’re imprisoned here for a week as well.

Kartika Liotard So I was surprised, though not quite astonished (years of agitation in the European Parliament over the status of health care having this week borne fruit) to receive a request to know whether I perhaps could find the time for a face-to-face discussion with the Commissioner-designate for health care and consumer protection, John Dalli, the Maltese nomination. The twenty-seven Commissioners are responsible for proposing new European legislation, forming the EU’s day-to-day executive. And this man wanted to hear what I had to say about public health.
I of course accepted the invitation, which gave me the opportunity to share my opinions with him, as well as conveying those of the Dutch public, regarding public health and the protection of consumers. As you and I both know, in the EU things often turn around the interests of big money. In my view health care is one sector in which economic interests must play no role. It should be all about the interests of the patient. I believe that health care, therefore, must remain a public affair in the hands of the member states. It’s not something to be incorporated into the EU market. The Commissioner behaved as if he was in full agreement, but, as we all know, only time will tell, and you have my word that I will be keeping a close eye on Commissioner Dalli.
I also asked him why the Commission, despite years of requests and resolutions from the European Parliament, has not come forward with any legislative proposals on the cloning of animals. This practice causes appalling levels of suffering in animals and offers absolutely no guarantee, either now or in the future, that it will make any contribution to food security. I have spent more than two years now resisting the arrival of the day when you will find meat from cloned animals on your plates. Fortunately I have already persuaded a majority in the European Parliament of the justice of this.
Last but not least I was able to talk to the Commissioner about the fact that a lack of financial resources – poverty – leads to ill health. A policy of socially preventative medicine must therefore be established with as priority the fight against poverty, as well as access to healthy food and clean drinking water, and access to high quality health care on an equal basis for all. Even in the rich countries within Europe, even in the Netherlands itself, not everyone can afford decent food or to go to the doctors when he or she is sick. That is scandalous. Good health begins with good social standards.
Tomorrow I’ll travel back from Strasbourg to my home in the rural Netherlands. I wish you all the best of holidays and, above all, a healthy 2010.

Kartika Liotard

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