A missed opportunity in the EU Work Programme to support European health NGOs to play their key role in the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond

A number of European health and patient NGOs, many of whom belong to the EU4Health Civil Society Alliance have expressed their deep regret that the operating grant mechanism, which helps build capacity and supports the long-term contribution of civil society health organisations has been discontinued in the 2021-2022  work programme of the landmark EU4Health programme.

The unilateral decision by the European Commission to abandon this type of operational funding in the 2021 Work Plan will have a detrimental impact on the ability of organisations to contribute meaningfully to implement the objectives of the EU4Health programme and to promote networking, capacity building, and the exchange of good practices between national organisations and associations, it is feared. There are also concerns that the 2021-2022 work programme will further diminish opportunities for NGOs to contribute, as a result of the small number of calls for the replacement action grants open to NGOs and the narrow scope of thematic areas covered.

European NGOs bring added value to the EU by providing essential support to people living in Europe, patient organisations and health NGOs at national level during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though services and funding have been severely affected. This decision by the Commission, despite being explicitly included in the EU4Health programme and in the Financial regulation agreed by EU national governments and the European Parliament; and despite a significant increase in the EU4Health budget, risks undermining this vital work and support, especially efforts to tackle rising health inequalities among the most vulnerable in our society. The statement follows an open letter to Commissioner Kyriakides on 2 June from 56 MEPs supporting the campaign and urging the Commission to reconsider its position on the matter. 

The organisations are calling on HaDEA and the European Commission, as part of the 2021 calls for proposals, to  ensure that a broader range of calls are opened up to allow for applications and contributions from NGOs. 

Looking ahead to 2022, those signing the statement call on the European Commission to restore Operating Grants as a financing mechanism to provide a strong foundation for the contribution of NGOs, as part of the 2022 work programme, and to engage meaningfully with NGOs and the European Parliament on decisions on the future of the EU4Health programme, respecting the provisions of the EU4Health regulation