Progress on the establishment of the European Centre for Disease
Prevention and Control
Health ministers announced this week that they had made
real progress towards the establishment of the European Centre for Disease
Prevention and Control (1). In a meeting of the Council for Employment, Social
Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs in Brussels on 1 and 2 December 2003,
they held an extensive policy debate on the proposal for the establishment
of the Centre, and reached a general agreement on the main content of the
Health ministers agreed that the mission and tasks of the Centre would
be limited to communicable diseases and health threats of unknown origin
(2). Any possible extension of this mission will be assessed at a later
review of the work of the Centre. Some changes were brought to the text
with a view to ensure that the Centre would not be entitled to regulatory
powers. Other issues discussed included voting rules and the composition
of the management board of the Centre.
The Commission's original proposal for the regulation establishing the
Centre was published in September 2003 (3). The Centre is intended to mobilise
and significantly reinforce the synergies between the existing national
centres for disease control. The Centre will provide EU policy makers and
citizens with authoritative and independent scientific advice on serious
health threats, and recommend control measures and coordinate intervention
teams allowing a rapid and effective EU-wide response (4).
The proposal for the establishment of the Centre has already been before
the Economic and Social Committee of European Parliament. The opinion of
the rapporteur was adopted on 29 October 2003 (5). The Committee took note
of recent global events, notably the SARS epidemic and the threats of bioterrorism
in the United States and Japan, and concluded that the EU needed a systematic
and structured approach to controlling communicable diseases and other serious
health threats, which would require a substantial increase in long term
The Committee considered that the remit of the Centre should include surveillance,
and the networking of existing laboratories, to achieve rapid harmonisation
of surveillance methods and the provision of high level scientific advice.
The Committee also stated that in some instances, technical assistance should
not be limited only to EU Member States and that the EU should be able to
obtain help from and/or provide help to other Community agencies, the World
Health Organization, humanitarian medicine and foreign agencies. The Centre
is intended to be small in size yet highly influential, because of its synergies
with national institutes. Interestingly, the Committee had some doubts as
to whether the Centre would be able to begin operating with such a small
number of staff (30 in the first year, rising to 70 in the third).
The regulation will also be scrutinised by the European Parliament's Health
and Social Affairs Committee.
The Italian presidency urged the Council to adopt the proposal at the first
reading during the first semester of 2004. This would allow the Centre to
become operational from early 2005.