Health – a cross-border concern

Scientists at work
Scientists at work © FDFA, Presence Switzerland

Health and the health protection of citizens are major priorities both in Switzerland and the EU. The EU health policy aims to prevent diseases, promote a healthier lifestyle and protect people from health risks. Thus, it pursues the same objectives as those of Swiss heath policy.

Burgeoning cross-border flows of people and freight are creating greater health risks including flu epidemics, food crises, defect medical products or dangerous toys. These challenges can only be efficiently prevented and overcome in cooperation with our neighbours and the EU.

Common platform for cross-border heath issues

In the EU, the member states are responsible for the organisation and provision of their national health-care services. The EU complements their work by bringing the member states together to create common platforms and to deal with cross-border health care issues. Examples of issues, which are discussed at EU level, include childhood obesity, the treatment of rare diseases, the antimicrobial resistance and the challenges of an aging population. The member states can discuss these issues and consequently find a better way to collectively overcome mutual health-care problems.

In addition to risk assessment agencies, the EU has efficient early warning and rapid alert systems. One of these systems is for example the RASFF (Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed). Thanks to this system, the EU member states and the EU Commission can share information on food products that endanger health, and at the same time withdraw defect products rapidly from the market, as in the case of the scandal of Fipronil-contaminated eggs and poultry or the Escherichia coli crisis (EHEC).

To extend cooperation with the EU in these areas and to ensure full participation in its coordination systems, in 2008, the Federal Council adopted a negotiating mandate with the EU in the areas of agriculture, food safety, product safety, and public health. At technical level, these negotiations are now closed and the agreement is ready to be signed. However, the EU wants to make progress on the institutional agreement with Switzerland before signing new agreements.

Switzerland monitors EU policy in the public health, pharmaceuticals and medicinal products sectors as well as in the areas of food and product safety. As a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), Switzerland also participates as an observer in the ad hoc working groups of the European Economic Area (EEA).