Minister Milquet, Ladies and Gentlemen; Distinguished Members of the European Parliament; Mrs Parvanova, Mrs. de la Mata, Mr Hutton, Distinguished Guests, welcome to this reception, which marks the launch of the Fit for Work pan-European report – a remarkable analysis of the social and economic impact of musculoskeletal disorders (or MSD’s) in Europe.
When I was asked to host this event, I did not hesitate to accept the invitation of The Work Foundation. It is in fact the second time that we host an event at the European Parliament.
MSDs, and most specifically rheumatic diseases have been one of my priorities for quite some time now. I am also quite happy that my colleague Antonya Parvanova has agreed to co-host this event.
Over 100 million European citizens suffer from Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain (CMP). MSD’s account for a higher proportion of sickness absence from work than any other health condition. That means approximately one in six people – and that is how important this issue is.
As I said, I have been quite active in this domain in the European Parliament: For example, I have been one of the leaders of the Women in RA campaign in the European Parliament. In 2008, I have co-presented a Written Declaration on rheumatic diseases that has been adopted by a majority of Members.
This Written Declaration calls on the Commission and Council to attach more importance to:
– rheumatic diseases in the Community strategy on health given their high social and economic costs;
– encourage Member States to establish and promote the implementation of national plans to fight rheumatic diseases;
– develop a Community strategy on rheumatic diseases; and
– draw up a Council recommendation on the early diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases.
These four points should be extended to MSD’s as a wider social and economic challenge to the EU.
I was happy to be so strongly involved with this Written Declaration, and it is clear that the issue is not new to me. On the contrary, it features high on my priority list. We are gathered here tonight for the launch of the Fit for Work report. This represents a very important piece of research as it contributes significantly to understanding the prevalence and development of MSDs across Europe as well as the national policy response to this disease area.
For the first time, this report shows the extent to which MSDs are affecting wellbeing and productivity in Europe. It shows that there are important differences across Member States and it gives detailed information about the scale of the challenge ahead of us.
The report provides comprehensive data to inform the debate and drive change in the area of MSDs. It is a very rigorous and comprehensive piece of research bringing out evidence from 25 countries in Europe and beyond.
The report highlights significant inequalities across Europe: depending on where you come from in the EU, you do not stand the same chances when it comes to preventing, treating and managing MSDs. Member States do not have the same capacity to address MSD. And they do not have the same level of awareness and of acknowledgement of the importance of prevention and management of such conditions.
MSDs caused by work affect more than 40 million people in the EU and account for about half of all work-related disorders in EU countries (ETUI, 2007). But we should not only be concerned by MSDs caused by work. MSDs are a phenomenon that has an impact on our society a whole. They directly and indirectly affect large parts of society (people who suffer from MSDs – whether they are work-related or not, their families and carers).
Today, before this reception, participants from across Europe and policymakers based in Brussels have taken part in workshops where they have shared national good practices. They have discussed the findings of the report, have exchanged experiences and points of view and have come up with very useful recommendations.
Now is the time to talk about action. The Members of the European Parliament, colleagues from the European Commission and Council have a clear role to play in raising awareness and taking action on MSDs. Together we can build a framework for joint action across Member States.
Health, social and welfare policies favouring early intervention in the area of MSDs are needed to maintain a European workforce that is fit for work.
But we need to join efforts. It is crucial for the health and wellbeing of European workers and it is crucial for Europe’s competitiveness.
We need to act and this is why I am also working on a European Parliament Interest Group on MSDs, with the objective to move MSDs up on the EU policy agenda and make it a top priority for EU action, which will launched at the 13th of October.
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