Magazine ed*
ed* Nr. 01/2024

Health and social policy through the ages

Taking stock of the last five years and future outlook

ed* Nr. 01/2024 – Chapter 2

When Ursula von der Leyen applied for the highest post of the European Union (EU) on 16 July 2019, nobody could have guessed that the COVID-19 pandemic would shake up the political plans of the new EU Commission six months on.


2020 had just begun and the new EU Commission had only been in office for a short time when it was taken by surprise by COVID-19. The EU Commission tried to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and cushion its socio-economic impact with numerous measures at national and European level. It responded quickly with the NextGenerationEU economic stimulus package and provided the Member States with funds as high as EUR 723 billion for the reconstruction of Europe. With the SURE programme (Support to Mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency), financial aid totalling EUR 100 billion saved millions of people from unemployment. Moreover, the legislative package on the European Health Union made public health protection a good deal more European. The EU has become an important player in health policy, not least due to the joint procurement of COVID-19 vaccines. Von der Leyen made it clear early on that she has particular ambitions in terms of health and social policy with her launch of “Europe’s beating cancer plan” at the beginning of February 2020.

Guidelines of the European Commission 2019 to 2024

It is remarkable that the EU Commission continued the focused pursuit of its plans despite the sudden challenge posed by the pandemic. Its main guidelines are to:

  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030 and make the EU climate-neutral by 2050 (Green Deal).
  • ensure the necessary structural change in ecological terms and organise it in a socially just manner (Just Transition). 
  • make responsible use of the opportunities offered by digitalisation, artificial intelligence (AI) and big data (Digital Decade). 

The EU Commission has initiated a number of initiatives in these areas in recent years.

Overcoming the challenges posed by climate change

Climate change and social justice go hand in hand. Climate change is already having an impact on various areas of life, including the world of work. UV radiation, storms and heat stress as well as increasing exposure to dust, pollen and tropical insects pose new challenges for the social insurance. It is important not to lose sight of particularly disadvantaged groups. Factory workers, farmers and people in precarious living conditions, for instance, are feeling the effects of climate change very quickly. At the same time, these groups are disproportionately affected by a climate policy that has not been thought through to the end. With the establishment of the Social Climate Fund, the EU Commission has created an initial instrument to make the transition to climate neutrality socially equitable. The social insurance funds also recognise their responsibility to reduce their climate footprint and adapt their services to the changed conditions. Be it in the medical and nursing care of the sick, prevention or protection of employees from heat, radiation and new workplace risks as well as rehabilitation. These challenges were discussed in depth at the DSV’s anniversary event.