On 16 September 2020, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, gave the speech on the state of the European Union (EU). It was a highly anticipated speech not only because it was the President’s first State of the Union, but also because it comes at a time when the EU and its Member States are still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
In President von der Leyen’ words “people want to move out of this corona world, out of this fragility, out of uncertainty. They are ready for change and they are ready to move on. And this is the moment for Europe […] to lead the way from this fragility towards a new vitality.”
She continued stating the need to build a stronger European Health Union and future-proof EU4Health programme. She also encouraged the European Parliament to continue “fight[ing] for more funding and remedy the cuts made by the European Council.” Closing on the health-specific remarks, the President stated the urgency to discuss health competencies and announced a Global Health Summit to take place in Italy next year.
President von der Leyen also mentioned her intention to continue fighting hate crime and hate speech on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexuality, and to use the EU budget to address discrimination in the areas of employment, housing or healthcare.
While the speech touched upon a variety of other areas, two topics were largely absent: mental health and disability. In the past years, mental health has been more and more recognised as a crucial aspect for the well-being of every individual and societies in general. The on-going coronavirus pandemic has also made it clearer that actions to improve mental health care and services are urgently needed. Therefore, a stronger European Health Union and successful recovery from the pandemic can only be built through cross-sectoral inclusion and investments on mental health. Similarly, with the European Disability Strategy coming to an end this year and the second EU CRPD review just around the corner, this year’s State of the Union address could have been a great opportunity to re-state the EU’s commitment to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities, including people with psychosocial disabilities, and intention to progress with the (currently stalled) negotiations on the EU Horizontal non-discrimination Directive.
While appreciating the ambitious words on health and discrimination, it is still surprising that neither mental health nor disability (at least as a ground of discrimination) were topics included in the 2020 State of the EU. Mental Health Europe (MHE) calls for the European Commission to go beyond what was pledged in the speech and take comprehensive actions to reaffirm its commitment to mental health and disability.
On 02 October, MHE will host a high-level conference on “The Future of Mental Health, Rights and Recovery in Europe”. The event will bring together stakeholders in the field, including representatives of EU institutions (the European Commission and the European Parliament) and international organisations (e.g. the World Health Organisations). MHE hopes that the event will provide an opportunity for mental health actors to discuss what is needed to improve mental health for all and to protect the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities, as well as take more ambitious commitments for the future