Does subsidiarity trump solidarity?

12 August 2010

A recent BBC article explores the tragedy that is the Romanian healthcare system.

Out of pocket expenses for essential treatments, inadequate supplies, dangerous environments, and a shortage of skilled health workers: these are some of the risks that Romanian citizens face when they need to visit a hospital. The case of the Romanian health system raises stark questions about what European solidarity means.

When "contagion" in the banking sector threatens Eurozone economies billions in bale-out packages are mobilized - but what will Europe do to save its failing health systems?  Healthcare falls under the principle of subsidiarity in EU jargon. This means that authority rests with the Member States and measures intended to harmonize healthcare policies across the EU are actually forbidden in the EU Treaty. But is there an exception to this rule? At what point does solidarity trump subsidiarity?

It is true that a weak health system in Romania weakens the collective health security of the entire region. This could be perceived as a cross-border health threat where the European Commission has the authority to intervene. For the time being however, the threat seems to be most pressing for the Romanians themselves. From another perspective health is a human right, and one which it would seem many Romanians are being denied. Is this less a case for the Commission and more one for the European Court of Human Rights?

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