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In Conversation with MEP Susana Solis Perez: Healthcare, Environment, and the Road Ahead

Author Cesare Lercker
Published 06 Feb 2024
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For the past five years, Member of the European Parliament, Susana Solis Perez, has played a pivotal role in shaping both healthcare and environmental policies. In this exclusive interview with Cesare Lercker, our Life Science Advocacy Consultant, we gain insights into her accomplishments, the challenges currently facing these critical sectors, and her vision for the future.

  1. Reflecting on your five years of legislative work in the European Parliament, what are some of the most significant achievements or initiatives related to industry, sustainability, and healthcare that you feel particularly proud of? 

It has been a very intense time since I had the honour of being elected to serve European citizens in the European Parliament. There have been many challenges and turbulent times such as trying to keep legislative normality during the pandemic, but I would like to focus on the positive. And there is a lot we can be proud of.  

We have passed through the first ever law to regulate AI to harness its many opportunities and doing so with responsibility and according to our shared values as a Union. On sustainability we have also agreed on a strategic approach to raw materials, key to our energy transition and strategic autonomy, and on chips, key to our digital sovereignty. Furthermore, we are currently negotiating with the Council a viable transition for the automotive industry with euro7 to guarantee that we focus on investing on future-proof decarbonisation technologies that are here to stay.  

On health specifically we have been able to move forward in building a more resilient Health Union through the establishment of HERA and the Beating Europe Cancer Plan. We now have a parliament report on mental health, specifically calling to the Commission to put forward a European Mental Health Strategy with concrete targets and goals. We also now have a Parliament position for the creation of a European Health Data Space and are currently reviewing, with the highest priority, the general pharmaceutical legislation. 

 

  1. Throughout your tenure, you've been deeply involved in issues like innovation, rare diseases, supply chains. Could you share some insights into how these areas have evolved during your time in office and the impact of your contributions? 

Since 2019, the EU has continued to prioritize innovation as a core element of its economic and development strategy. Notably, thanks to Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation framework program for 2021-2027. In shaping innovation-related policies, the European Parliament has played a pivotal role.  

There were issues that we could not ignore any longer, such as the 36 million people living with rare diseases in the EU. That is why, during this mandate, we have started building a stronger European Health Union with the purpose of better protecting the health of Europeans and improving our health systems. How? As an example, by launching a revision of the EU’s pharmaceutical legislation or developing the European Health Data Space.  

As you well mentioned, supply chains have also been in the public eye. Raw materials shortage has taught us the urgent necessity of developing a renewed industrial strategy for Europe. To achieve that, we have developed new legislation in the frame of the Open Strategic Autonomy, such as the Critical Raw Materials Act.  

On top of that, the European Union Green Deal is an indisputable benchmark for innovation in many other areas, such as circular economy and sustainability. During this parliamentary term I have had the honour of being part of several of these laws, for example, in the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles, becoming our textile industry into a more respectful one to the planet but equally competitive. 

 

  1. Building strong relationships with stakeholders is crucial in policymaking. Can you tell us about some memorable interactions or collaborations with stakeholders that have influenced your work and decisions in Parliament? 

Stakeholders play an important role in policymaking, we cannot develop new legislation without taking into account academic experts, industry and civil society representatives. 

A memorable interaction I would like to highlight is the one with patient advocacy groups. Since I am a member of the Subcommittee on Public Health (SANT) in the European Parliament and I have been involved in some of its reports and legislation, I felt like we couldn’t do all this work without taking into consideration the most important stakeholder here: the people, the patients. Without a doubt, meetings with patient organizations, visiting hospitals and getting to know its innovative facilities has deepened our knowledge and improved the quality of our legislative work. Building strong relationships with these stakeholders has definitely remained a cornerstone of effective policymaking in the frame of the European Health Union.  

  1. As you prepare to conclude your legislative work, what are some key lessons or values that you've learned or reinforced during your time as an MEP, and how do you envision applying them in your future endeavours? 

There are many and great values learned in the Parliament that I will forever carry with me, both in the professional and personal terms. As a Spanish MEP, I have always been mindful of the country I represent and its interests. And this has been a priority throughout the tenure, for example developing legislation related to regional funds. 

However, after five years in Brussels, I have also come to appreciate that the European Parliament - and all the EU Institutions - operates within a framework that seeks to serve not only its Member States, but a greater good: the European common project. Serving in the EP has exposed me to an incredible diversity of cultures, perspectives and backgrounds, which is both a strength and a challenge. However, the EP is a beacon of democracy where diverse voices come together so that, in the end, the premises of collaboration and mutual compromise prevail and have helped us to make agreements between very different political groups, because most of us prioritize the common European good rather than the individual one.  

This thought could be summed up in a quote I once heard at an EU conference a remarkable quote: It is more difficult because we are not a single country. It is more beautiful because we are not a single country.  

Wherever I will go in the future, I am sure that I will continue applying the premise of prevailing common solutions that benefit most of us.

 

  1. Looking ahead, could you provide us with a glimpse of your next adventure after leaving the European Parliament? Do you plan to continue working in areas related to industry, sustainability, or healthcare, or do you have other aspirations and goals in mind? 

My current priority is to complete all the legislation I am involved in during this last year of the legislature. These are important and innovative regulations, such as the European Health Data Space, which must be rigorously approved. So, being completely honest, I am not thinking beyond the next six months.   

It is true that I am not a typical politician unlike others who have been in this field almost their entire lives. I am an engineer with more than twenty years of experience in the private sector, currently under a leave of absence. Whether in the public or private sector, my role will be the same: to give my very best to improve the quality of life for people. 

 

  1. How do you envision the role of digital health technologies and data sharing in advancing our understanding and treatment of EU patients? Could you share your thoughts on the current policy debates and the impact on these advancements? 

Through the Health Data Space specifically for example Europe is pioneering the revolution in the health sector. We need to harness the potential of health technologies and data sharing. With this exciting new tool, first of its kind, European patients will be able to move freely across Europe’s borders and carry their electronic health records with them. 

They will have full control over access and privacy. Only the health professionals allowed by the patient will be able to see the information and they will only have access to what the patients allows them to.  

We need to move forward with technological advancements and make them useful to our citizens and patients. The potential of data is enormous.  

Science's effectiveness depends on the quality of its data, particularly for research and innovation. Both directly and indirectly, patients stand to gain. With their permission, European health data can be used for specific research and innovation, providing a substantial amount of data crucial for progress in treating rare diseases. This facilitates the development of new therapies and treatments and allows health authorities to effectively oversee, forecast, and mitigate public health crises. 

For research access to this data, a health data permit must be obtained from the appropriate national Health Data Access Body. The issuance of these permits hinges on stringent criteria regarding the data's use and its anonymisation. These decisions are made by independent experts in technical and ethical fields. The governance framework overseeing this process is intentionally transparent and designed to avoid any conflicts of interest. 

In general, I think we need to embrace innovation and guarantee that Europe remains competitive and cutting edge; an attractive place to invest in new technologies without compromising on privacy and the highest standard for all our patients and citizens.  

 

Conclusion

Drawing on our insightful discussion with MEP Susana Solis Perez, it's clear that the road ahead is both challenging and full of potential. MEP Perez's emphasis on the urgent need to approve the European Health Data Space and other pivotal legislation underlines her commitment to harnessing high-quality data for the advancement of science, research, and innovation.  

We extend our thanks to MEP Perez for sharing her valuable perspectives and for her unwavering dedication to these vital sectors. As we continue to navigate the complexities of these fields, these insights will undoubtedly resonate and guide us towards a healthier, more sustainable future for all. 

© Hanover Communications 2024, an AVENIR GLOBAL company. All rights reserved.

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