Both in the EU member states and in Norway, it is the national authorities that are responsible for health policy. Having said this, the EU countries increasingly cooperate on common challenges in the field of health. The EU is developing legislation in areas such as health security, food, tobacco, medicines, cosmetics, cross-border health care and medical equipment. Through the EEA Agreement, this legislation also applies in Norway.

The purpose of international health cooperation is to find solutions to challenges that transcend national borders, and it is therefore natural for Norway to cooperate with the EU in this area. Since the EEA Agreement came into force in 1994, developments in the EU have had increasing significance for Norwegian legislation relating to health.

EU policy and cooperation in the area of health

The goals of EU health policy include improving public health, reducing health inequalities and promoting access to good and safe health services. Article 168 of the Treaty of Lisbon, known as the public health article, states that health policy is a national responsibility. This covers both the level of health services provided, and how they are organised and financed. The EU countries are nevertheless free to cooperate on common challenges and develop common legislation in the area of health. In recent years, EU countries have become increasingly engaged in health cooperation in areas outside the EU’s internal market. Norway is an active participant in this cooperation.

The various projects in the area of health enable the EU member states and the EEA countries to exchange knowledge and learn from each other. A prime example is the cooperation on public health preparedness and response, in which Norway participates, for example through the Health Security Committee. The EU countries have established an extensive system for knowledge sharing, early warning and coordination. This can help to enhance preparedness and improve coordination between the countries in the face of health threats that have impacts across national borders, for example pandemics such as swine flu.

Association with the EU through the EEA Agreement 

Due to Norway’s participation in the internal market, Norway incorporates EU legislation on food security, tobacco, medicines, cosmetics, medical equipment, cross-border health care, blood, tissues and cells, and mutual recognition of professional qualifications of health personnel into its national legislation. Altogether, as a result of the EEA Agreement, between 60 and 100 legal acts (directives and regulations) that fall under the Ministry of Health and Care Services’ area of responsibility are incorporated into Norwegian legislation annually. Under the EEA Agreement, experts from the Ministry of Health and Care Services and its subordinate agencies the Norwegian Directorate of Health, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, the Norwegian Medicines Agency and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health have the right to participate in EU working groups and committees that draw up proposals for new or amended legislation.

Participation in EU programmes and agencies

In addition to participating in the development of common legislation, Norway is engaged in wide-ranging cooperation in the area of health through various programmes, agencies and networks.

The EU health programme, which was established in 2003, is central to this cooperation. The programme funds projects in the areas of public health preparedness, health information and health promotion, including the reduction of health inequalities.  Norway (and the other EEA countries) have participated in the health programme since its inception, and are included in the second health programme (2008–2013). Norway contributes to the programme’s budget and takes part in various working groups, expert groups, projects, joint actions and networks. Currently, Norway participates in joint actions on eHealth, health technology assessment, patient safety and quality of care, organ donation, cancer, rare diseases, HIV/AIDS prevention, mental health, health personnel, and antibiotic resistance.

Norway also participates in the EU Drug Prevention and Information Programme. The programme aims to prevent and reduce drug use, dependence and drug-related harm.

The Ministry of Health and Care Services is represented on the boards of three of the EU Joint Programming Initiatives that aim to respond to major societal challenges, namely the Joint Programme on Neurodegenerative Disease Research, the Joint Programming Initiative “A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life”, and the Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance. The Joint Programming Initiatives are launched by EU member countries and supported by the European Commission. The aim is to pool national research efforts in order to make better use of Europe’s R&D resources. Norway has representatives on the boards of all ten Joint Programming Initiatives that have been established to date.

Norway also participates in the activities of four agencies that carry out analyses in their field of expertise and give advice to the Commission:

  • The European Medicines Agency EMA, London
  • The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control ECDC, Stockholm
  • The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction EMCDDA, Lisbon
  • The European Food Safety Authority EFSA, Parma

Relevant forums

  • The Ministry of Health and Care Services chairs the EEA special committee on health. A number of other ministries are also represented on the committee.
  • The Ministry of Health and Care Services has appointed a reference group under the EEA special committee that meets three times a year, made up of representatives from organisations and agencies.  
  • The EFTA working group on public health meets regularly in Brussels, and also has meetings with the Commission.  

National experts in the European Commission

Contact information for all the Norwegian national experts can be found on the EFTA Secretariat’s website.