Written by Laurence Amand-Eeckhout and Tarja Laaninen.
|The European Youth Event will bring together thousands of young people in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, on 9 and 10 June 2023, to share ideas about the future of Europe. This introduction to one of the major topics to be discussed during the EYE event is one of 11 prepared by the Parliament’s Research Service (EPRS). It offers an overview of the main lines of EU action and policy in the area concerned, and aims to act as a starting point for discussions during the event. You can find them all on this link.|
Despite the wide range of health benefits gained from participating in physical activity, nearly half of Europeans do not exercise. A recent Eurobarometer survey, published in September 2022, found that 45 % of European adults never exercise. A healthy lifestyle is vital to personal and public health, and public health policy has taken centre stage in European Union policymaking since the COVID‑19 pandemic. In the wake of the crisis, the EU has renewed its focus on addressing cross-border health emergencies and is working towards building a European Health Union.
National governments are responsible for organising and delivering healthcare services to citizens, whereas the European Union’s role is mainly one of coordination and support. EU-level public health policy aims at protecting and improving peoples’ health, ensuring equal access to modern and efficient healthcare, and equipping EU countries to better prevent and address serious cross-border health threats, such as the COVID‑19 pandemic. The EU also funds research projects on prevention, diagnosis, new treatments and care.
The EU adopts legislation and makes recommendations to countries on public health topics, ranging from medicines, medical devices and clinical trials, to tobacco, promotion of good health and patients’ rights.
Two EU agencies support national governments on health issues: the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which assesses and monitors emerging disease threats, and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which evaluates the quality, safety and efficiency of medicines.
What is the EU doing – and why?
Drawing lessons from the COVID‑19 crisis, the EU has begun building a European Health Union, to improve EU capacity in prevention, preparedness, surveillance, risk assessment, early warning, and response in the face of medical emergencies. To do this, the EU has reinforced the ECDC and the EMA. It has created new rules on serious cross-border threats to health. There is new legislation regulating the supply of medical countermeasures (products used to face serious health threats such as antibiotics, tests and equipment, personal protective equipment, and vaccines) in the event of a public health emergency. The EU also created the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA). Additionally, a new law enabling stronger cooperation between EU countries on assessment of new health technology should ensure patients have better access to innovative medicines and medical devices.
The EU also focuses on long-term health priorities: cancer, non-communicable diseases, antimicrobial-resistant infections, health and safety at work, mental health disorders, and digital health. Health promotion and disease prevention are also essential – particularly regarding the serious impact of drugs, alcohol and tobacco use on our health. As part of building a stronger European Health Union, the EU is also reviewing its pharmaceutical legislation. Shortages of certain medicines are a growing threat to public health in Europe, and making medicines available and affordable for everyone is a real challenge.
A Eurobarometer survey from September 2022 showed that up to 45 % of Europeans never exercise or play sports. Respondents aged 15‑24 years are the most likely to exercise or play sport with some regularity (54 %). This proportion decreases with age, from 42 % among 25‑39 year-olds, to 32 % in the group aged 40‑54 and 21 % among those aged 55 and over.
While responsibility for sports policy lies primarily with national governments and sports organisations, the EU does play a role. Since 2009, the EU has been responsible for fostering cooperation and managing initiatives in support of physical activity and sport across Europe. The EU allocates funding for sports under a dedicated budget in the Erasmus+ programme, and finances numerous sports projects and networks.
Decisions taken by the EU institutions can have a major impact on professional athletes’ careers. The best-known case is the European Court of Justice Bosman ruling (1995), which eliminated transfer fees for footballers whose contracts had ended, and banned restrictions on how many players from other Member States could sign to play for clubs in EU countries.
What is the EU doing – and why?
Given the positive health effects of physical activity, getting more people to participate in sport is an EU priority. The European Week of Sport, held every September across Europe, seeks to engage more Europeans – from children to pensioners – in sports and physical exercise. The EU supports the idea that taking part in sports can improve general wellbeing, as well as providing significant economic benefits across the Union, and can help overcome wider societal issues such as racism, social exclusion and gender inequality.
Examples of EU action include initiatives to enhance young athletes’ wellbeing and help athletes combine their sporting careers with work or education. The EU promotes quality coaching, works to raise youth awareness of the dangers of doping, and to improve the governance of sports organisations.
The 2021-2024 EU work plan for sport guides those working towards cooperation between EU institutions, national authorities and sports stakeholders. One of its priorities is investment in sport and health-enhancing physical activity, including the creation of sports opportunities for all ages. The plan also aims at helping the sports sector recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU plans to increase the proportion of women in leadership positions and coaching. The plan promotes equal conditions for all athletes, and seeks to enhance media coverage of women in sport.
At the annual EU Sport Forum in June 2022, a Youth Ideas Lab was launched under the umbrella of the HealthyLifestyle4All initiative (a European Year of Youth 2022 initiative). The goal of the Youth Labs was to give young people a voice in developing innovative proposals related to increasing young people’s participation in and access to physical activity, and ensuring a healthy lifestyle through sport for all generations.