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Meet the MEPs that will shape EU health policymaking

Rumours suggest that the European Parliament might look to establish a standalone health committee with legislative powers in the next term.
Rumours suggest that the European Parliament might look to establish a standalone health committee with legislative powers in the next term. Copyright Mathieu CUGNOT/ European Union 2023 - Source : EP
Copyright Mathieu CUGNOT/ European Union 2023 - Source : EP
By Marta Iraola IribarrenGerardo Fortuna
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Pioneering surgeons, patient advocates, former health officials, social media personalities, and familiar faces: these are the European lawmakers to watch in the next parliamentary term.

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The recently ended legislative mandate has underscored the importance of health in EU policymaking, even though national governments still retain primary competence over the sector.

The EU's Beating Cancer Plan was a top priority for the EU executive before COVID-19 elevated health on the Commission’s agenda, resulting in the bloc’s first budget line dedicated to health.

Sources in the largest Parliament’s group, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), suggested that MEPs might look to establish a standalone health committee with legislative powers, which could further amplify the focus on the subject in the upcoming term.

Both familiar faces and newcomers in the Parliament are poised to significantly influence EU health policies with their diverse experiences and expertise.

Top officials

Vytenis Andriukaitis, Marta Temido and Vlad Voiculescu
Vytenis Andriukaitis, Marta Temido and Vlad VoiculescuEuronews/AP/European Union

Several newly elected lawmakers are former high-ranking figures, including Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU's former health commissioner from 2014 to 2019. Known in Brussels for his vigorous campaigns against anti-vaxxers, the Lithuanian has a background as a trauma, orthopaedic, and heart surgeon, and has served as a WHO special envoy for the European region. Following his election, he tweeted his readiness to work on topics such as the European Health Union and more.

Andriukaitis is not the only former Lithuanian health minister that will join the Parliament this mandate. Aurelijus Veryga, will also come to Brussels after serving in the Ministry of Health between 2016 and 2020. Outside of politics, Veryga has been a strong advocate of tobacco control, founding the National Tobacco Control Coalition in Lithuania. He is also a member of the European Network for Smoking Prevention.

The list of former health ministers includes Marta Temido from Portugal. The new socialist MEP’s familiarity with the health agenda is well-established as he chaired the ministerial gathering during the Portuguese presidency in 2021, focusing on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and public health threat responses.

Other top civil servants joining the parliament ranks are fellow socialist MEP Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, a former Irish health minister responsible for the country's drug strategy and an advocate for abortion rights, and liberal Vlad Voiculescu from Romania, who served twice as health minister and has significant experience in patient advocacy. Voiculescu has recently been seen at health events in Brussels suggesting a desire to remain immersed in the topic.

Spanish socialist Leire Pajín, elected to the European Parliament for the first time, led her country’s health ministry between 2010 and 2011 before working with the Pan American Health Organization. While her committee assignment remains uncertain, her primary interest appears to be in health.

Health experts

Ignazio Marino, Laurent Castillo and Friedrich Pürner
Ignazio Marino, Laurent Castillo and Friedrich PürnerEuronews/X/European Union

A number of doctors with a variety of experience clearly focused their election campaigns on health.

A standout new MEP is Hungarian András Kulja, a surgeon from Budapest, who has amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on TikTok and has hosted education podcasts on health in his home country. He joined Péter Magyar's Tisza party and received the endorsement of his group's former health coordinator, German MEP Peter Liese, to run as chair of the Parliament’s health committee (SANT).

Italian Green Ignazio Marino, recently elected as vice president of his parliamentary group, is a known entity in Italy. The former mayor of Rome and transplant surgeon worked on pioneering projects in the US, including the first organ transplant from baboon to human. In Italy, he performed the first transplant on HIV-positive patients and held various offices, including chairing a committee of inquiry into the national health service.

French Christian democrat Laurent Castillo is the sole doctor elected among French MEPs. As chief administrator of Nice’s university hospital, he is highly attuned to health workforce issues and working conditions for medical workers; expected to be critical topics in the next term.

German MEP Friedrich Pürner, who formerly headed the health department in the district of Aichach, was dismissed for publicly criticising Bavaria’s COVID-19 containment measures, such as mandatory masks for children. Known as a "Corona rebel" in Germany, he has been elected for the left-populist Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht (BSW) party. Joining him in his leftist delegation is Jan Peter Warnke, a former neurosurgeon embarking on a political career.

Familiar faces

Bartosz Arłukowicz, Tilly Metz, Dolors Montserrat
Bartosz Arłukowicz, Tilly Metz, Dolors MontserratEuropean Union

The upcoming European Parliament will also feature several well-known figures from the previous mandate, such as German socialist Tiemo Wölken is also returning to the European Parliament. As one of the rapporteurs for the new pharmaceutical legislation, Wölken will continue his work on this complex file, ready for negotiations with EU ministers and the Commission.

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Luxembourgish Green Tilly Metz, a veteran in the European Parliament, will return for a third mandate. Former vice president of the public health subcommittee, she is expected to continue focusing on health issues.

The record for the longest-serving health MEP goes to German physician Peter Liese, who specialised in human genetics and internal medicine and is returning for his seventh term since his first election in 1994. Liese is tipped to remain environment spokesperson for the powerful centre-right EPP.

Another Christian Democrat,  from Poland, a former chair of both the public health subcommittee and the special committee on beating cancer, will also be back for the next five years. Arłukowicz, a paediatric oncologist for over a decade, served as Poland’s health minister before being elected to the European Parliament in 2019.

Former Spanish health minister Dolors Montserrat will return to the Parliament for a second term with the EPP group. In the past five years, she was part of the public health committee and served as rapporteur on the COVID-19 report of lessons learned and future recommendations.

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Italian right-wing lawmaker Aldo Patriciello, who owns many top-notch healthcare facilities in Italy's South and was particularly active on cancer issues in the previous mandate, can reclaim his post as MEP in the eleventh hour as the candidate from his party who got elected in his place opted for representing another constituency.

Croatian centre-right MEP Tomislav Sokol, a well-known name in Brussels health circles and rapporteur on the EU health data space file, could also make a comeback in the next legislature. He is currently one position away from joining the hemicycle, which could change if current Croatian Commissioner Dubravka Šuica - the first name on the party's list and an elected MEP - returns to the EU executive for a second term.

The article has been updated as the re-election of Tomislav Sokol has not been officialised.

The article was updated to include Aurelijus Veryga.

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