The coronavirus pandemic has shaken our European continent and the world alike. It has tested the resilience of our economy. One where economic growth equals wealth, while social inequality and environmental sustainability take a back seat.
COVID-19 has done its damage, but as our European history teaches us, there is a silver lining even in the darkest crisis. This time, it is the generational opportunity to rethink the existing economic model and mould a European Health Union that caters first and foremost for the well-being of its people.
European citizens have spoken loud and clearly. The European Union can and must do more to address health issues – beyond tackling this devastating crisis, towards preventing the next pandemic and the many other threats to health, including the effects of climate change. This starts with the pivotal acknowledgment that it is healthy lives that measure society’s well-being.
It is mentally and physically healthy individuals, who are the real drivers of economically productive companies and societies. It is by putting people – not GDP – at the centre of all EU policies that we can build an Economy of Well-being which is equitable, sustainable, and ultimately, economically performant.
Overwhelming research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and others, proves the strong interlinkages between healthy society and economic productivity. Yet, the price for the never-ending chase of economic growth is currently affecting long-term health and the future of the planet.
If the European Union’s aim is to promote the well-being of its people – as enshrined in the EU Treaties – then it is a logical imperative for a set of well-being indicators to be swiftly adopted in order to measure and monitor people’s wellbeing in the Union.
The EU and the Member States should urgently adopt a Charter of Health and Well-being, commit to change the course of how we measure wealthy societies, and encourage collaboration towards a common index of well-being which integrate economic, social and environmental criteria.
In line with the EU’s commitments to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and leaving no-one behind, these indicators must guide the EU’s work across all of its policies. They should also apply to the EU budget and be integrated into macro-economic tools such as the European Semester.
The COVID-19 pandemic has served the EU a unique chance to lead by example, while addressing the need to revitalise the European project. Now is the time to demonstrate real commitment to adopt the much-needed cultural shift demanded by its citizens: the creation of a Union where the lives and health of all its people matter, more than GDP’s narrow measure of economic activity.
By Vytenis Andriukaitis, WHO Special Envoy for the European region and Wellbeing Ambassador for All Policies for a Healthy Europe