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Court of Auditors criticises EU Public Health Programme 2003-2007

In this special report the European Court of Auditors analyses the European Union's Public Health Programme (PHP) for 2003-2007, managed by the European Commission.The Court's audit asked whether the right conditions were set for health promotion actions financed from the EU budget to complement the measures taken by Member States to protect and improve public health.

The PHP was structured around three programme strands: "health information", rapid reaction to "health threats" and health promotion through addressing "health determinants". Some 352 projects were funded, the total Community contribution being approximately 232 million euro. Projects funded from the PHP were very diverse in terms of size, approach and target group.

The report details conclusions and recommendations concerning programme design, programme implementation and project management. The audit concluded that the PHP had been set very broad and ambitious objectives that contrasted sharply with the limited means at its disposal. The diversity of topics and the multiplicity of 'action areas', established in the annual work plans of the Commission, caused input to be diluted and led to fragmented results. The programme followed many different paths and lacked strategic focus.

Project effectiveness was hindered by design weaknesses and implementation problems. With few exceptions, projects did not define what results they intended to achieve. Projects generally produced the planned outputs, but the Court did not find their demonstrable take-up, i.e. the sustainability of the project results was low. The Commission did not monitor the projects systematically and ex-post evaluation had not become a common practice among project participants.

On the positive side, the programme brought stakeholders from different countries together. Projects generally had a European dimension and, in many cases, facilitated the sharing of experience s and mutual learning.

In view of its findings, the Court calls into question the utility of certain components of European public health programmes such as the PHP. The Commission and the Member States are invited to reconsider the EU's funding approach in the field of public health.

The Court recommends that any successor programme should be assigned better targeted programme objectives which are more in line with its budgetary means. The number of annual 'action areas' should be significantly reduced, and they should be focused on strategic priorities. The European Commission should also address weaknesses in project design and implementation.

The report can be downloaded from the website of the European Court of Auditors at

Special ReportInformation Note
Press StatementLink to EbS
Press Release
Presentation by ECA Member Henri Grethen
Photo - ECA Member Henri Grethen at the press conference