Stella Kyriakides, commissioner designate for health has presented her vision for an effective and inclusive EU health and food safety policy to the European Parliament’s ENVI and AGRI committees, seeking their positive recommendation.
A long time Cyprus MP and health activist, Kyriakides placed specific emphasis on an effective and synergistic policy on cancer treatment and prevention, as well as tackling antibiotic resistance and linking food safety with the Green Deal future Commission strategy.
More specifically, Commissioner Candidate Kyriakides, concluding her introductory remarks before the hearing described the following five deliverables:
“Many of you asked me in Strasbourg what I hoped to achieve in the next Commission’s mandate. And this has been in my thoughts from day 1 of this journey”, she said. In five years’ time, I want us to look back and say:
– “We delivered an ambitious cancer plan and reduced the suffering caused by cancer.”
– “We provided healthier and greener food for our citizens.”
– “We improved public health and patients’ access to healthcare.”
– We reached out to European citizens in their daily lives.
– “We made sure Europe works for all its citizens in the area of health.”
“We all need to take up the challenges and deliver”, she stated.
Commissioner candidate Kyriakides opened her speech stating that “it is a great honour for me to be here today, before the democratically elected representatives of the people of Europe, to seek your approval for the position of Commissioner for Health”.
Speaking in Greek, she stressed that health issues touch upon the everyday lives of the EU citizen and this fact will be the rule and guide of her mandate, if she is approved by the EP.
She also stressed that European citizens expect “the peace of mind that comes with access to healthcare, safe food to eat, and protection against epidemics and diseases”, noting that “they deserve this”, and that in the EU “we have some of the world’s highest standards on animal and plant health, and the most affordable, accessible and high-quality health systems to deliver on these expectations”.
“To do away with inequalities”, she stressed, “the Von Der Leyen Commission wants to lead a European Union that does strive for more”. “For our generation, Europe was a project built to bring peace, prosperity and unity. For our children, Europe needs to be much more”, she cautioned. “They tell us loud and clear about their strong desire to live in a natural and healthy continent, on a green and sustainable planet”, noted the Commissioner candidate.
She then reminded the MEPs that she has spent her life “serving public causes”, that she has been elected three times to the national Parliament and was honoured to be elected President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. “27 years working with children and adolescents, as a clinical psychologist in our public hospitals, on mental health, for those among us who frequently are forgotten”, she noted, adding that “I know first-hand the importance of well-functioning health systems; that the collective health of our societies depends on the individual health of every single citizen”. “But that alone is not enough”, she also warned, noting that “it depends also on the general health of our planet”, pledging to commit “all my energy, all my knowledge and all my skills to serving these European causes as Commissioner for Health for the next five years”.
The Commissioner candidate also stressed that “health is an area where the European Union should strive for more”, warning that “We cannot be complacent by what we have achieved”, and noting that “we see transformations in climate, technology and demography, which change our societies and our way of life”.
“Europe must lead the transition to a healthy planet and a new digital world”, noted Commissioner candidate Kyriakides, stressing that “these are all challenges that impact our quality of life, they impact over social cohesion, competitiveness and economic growth.”
“We can only deal with them successfully with a One-Health and health-in-all-policies approach”, she told the MEPs, adding that “the Green Deal is an opportunity to address these challenges holistically”, as “It places good health and sustainable, nutritious, affordable food under a single policy umbrella, targeting also climate neutrality and zero pollution”.
“I am delighted that my work on food safety, animal welfare and plant health will be a significant part of this agenda, and I am thrilled to lead our work on a new Farm to Fork strategy on sustainable food”, said Stella Kyriakides. “It will address every step of the food chain and reach every actor within it, putting social inclusion at its core”, she noted. “These are challenges I recognise, but I am definitely not afraid to take on, knowing that you will be a key partner in this process”, she told the MEPs, reminding them again that “as a parliamentarian myself, I recognise the crucial role played by these Committees and I look forward to working closely with you in the coming years”.
She then pointed out that she has met many of the MEPs these last few weeks, and it is clear that they share common ground on several issues.
“Protecting citizens from risks like endocrine disruptors, reducing our dependency on pesticides and promoting animal health and welfare are issues on which I want to join forces with you”, she noted, adding that “at the same time, I will work closely with national governments, knowing very well that implementing and enforcing EU rules in this area, is something we can certainly improve on”.
“It is vitally important we avoid the damage that is done to consumer confidence and public health when rules aren`t followed. Building trust is imperative if we are to succeed. Transparency and honesty need to be our beacons. We need to clamp down on issues like food fraud that undermine the single market and the trust of our citizens”, warned the Commissioner candidate, stating that she wants to ensure that “we have the right means to keep our citizens healthy, and for this a steady stream of affordable medicines is vital”.
Turning on medicine, she stated that “the EU pharmaceutical system has given citizens access to high quality and affordable medicines for decades.” “I will focus on implementing a modernised and more robust legislative framework for medical devices”, she promised, noting that “this needs to be done in order to improve patient safety and consolidate the EU’s role as a global leader in the field”, as “digital technologies and Artificial Intelligence need to be leveraged in this effort, because they can bring concrete benefits to patients and healthcare professionals”. “I want to maximise this potential and I see the creation of a European Health Data Space as an important step in the right direction”, noted Stella Kyriakides.
“On all these issues, Europe has a special role to play on the world stage”, explained St. Kyriakides to the MEPs. “A European Union that strives for more simply cannot turn inwards”, she warned. “The scope of our actions should be global and multilateral, reaching far beyond our borders”, she noted. “Antimicrobial resistance is a danger occurring both in Europe and in the world: the clock is ticking and we need to act now”, she also warned, stating that “Europe should lead the global effort, and I will advocate for an international agreement on the use and access to antimicrobials”. “For that main reason I will also prioritise the implementation of the European One Health action plan against antimicrobial resistance”, she promised the ENVI and AGRI committee members.
Finally turning to cancer, “a flagship priority for the next Commission, and very close to my heart”, as she said, Commissioner candidate Kyriakides tried to present a “Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan” as she called it. “40% of us will face cancer in our lives – there are not many families who have not in some way been touched by this disease”, she noted. “This in itself is reason enough for cancer to be at the very top of our priorities in the area of health”, stressed Stella Kyriakides. “Beating cancer will require all hands on deck, and a truly horizontal, health-in-all-policies approach”, she stated. “Everything from the food we eat, to the lifestyles we lead, to the medicines, care and technology we have access to, are highly relevant to beating cancer. Each is a link in a chain that has one aim only – to reduce the impact of cancer in Europe” Stella Kyriakides explained.
“I see our Beating Cancer Plan touching upon all the actions in my mission letter – Farm to Fork, the Green Deal, antimicrobial resistance, innovation affordability of medicines”, she stressed.
“It needs to address prevention, diagnosis, treatment, research, cancer survivorship and palliative care, it needs to involve sectors and industries beyond the health sector, including education and environment”, noted the Commissioner candidate.
She then reminded the members that she has worked with the European Parliament on cancer “in the past, in my capacity as President of Europa Donna, as a patient-advocate – and always working in partnership with the medical community, industry, government and parliaments”. “I was in fact one of those involved in the passing of the first resolution on Breast Cancer in the Parliament in 2003”, she recalled. “Making a difference in the life of cancer patients has always been my guiding principle.
Speaking from personal experiences, I can assure you that it will continue to be my guiding principle in my current mission, if confirmed as Commissioner”, she promised the MEPs.
“Being Commissioner will empower me with the opportunity to uphold principles I`ve believed and fought passionately for all my life”, concluded Stella Kyriakides, promising the MEPs that she will “work with the European Parliament, Member States, stakeholders and my fellow Commissioners to improve public health and secure a sustainable future for Europe”.
“Where we diagnose weaknesses in our systems, we must come together to deliver a cure, working with energy, ambition, and commitment. Building partnership based on honesty, trust, transparency and accountability. This is why I stand here before you today – to ask for your support in reaching these goals together. Let us join forces to inspire, to fulfil our promises to future generations.
L’union fait la force”, the Commissioner candidate concluded.
Kyriakides then answered more than 20 questions from MEPs.