Taiwan’s new president: Five things you need to know about William Lai

TAIPEI — Forget Xi Jinping or Joe Biden for a second. Meet Taiwan’s next President William Lai, upon whom the fate of U.S.-China relations — and global security over the coming few years — is now thrust.

The 64-year-old, currently Taiwan’s vice president, has led the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to a historic third term in power, a first for any party since Taiwan became a democracy in 1996.

For now, the capital of Taipei feels as calm as ever. For Lai, though, the sense of victory will soon be overshadowed by a looming, extended period of uncertainty over Beijing’s next move. Taiwan’s Communist neighbor has laid bare its disapproval of Lai, whom Beijing considers the poster boy of the Taiwanese independence movement.

All eyes are now on how the Chinese leader — who less than two weeks ago warned Taiwan to face up to the “historical inevitability” of being absorbed into his Communist nation — will address the other inevitable conclusion: That the Taiwanese public have cast yet another “no” vote on Beijing.

1. Beijing doesn’t like him — at all

China has repeatedly lambasted Lai, suggesting that he will be the one bringing war to the island.

As recently as last Thursday, Beijing was trying to talk Taiwanese voters out of electing its nemesis-in-chief into the Baroque-style Presidential Office in Taipei.

“Cross-Strait relations have taken a turn for the worse in the past eight years, from peaceful development to tense confrontation,” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Chen Binhua said, adding that Lai would now be trying to follow an “evil path” toward “military tension and war.”

While Beijing has never been a fan of the DPP, which views China as fundamentally against Taiwan’s interests , the personal disgust for Lai is also remarkable.

Part of that stems from a 2017 remark, in which Lai called himself a “worker for Taiwanese independence,” which has been repeatedly cited by Beijing as proof of his secessionist beliefs.

Without naming names, Chinese President Xi harshly criticized those promoting Taiwan independence in a speech in 2021.

“Secession aimed at Taiwan independence is the greatest obstacle to national reunification and a grave danger to national rejuvenation,” Xi said. “Those who forget their heritage, betray their motherland, and seek to split the country will come to no good end, and will be disdained by the people and sentenced by the court of history.”

2. All eyes are on the next 4 months

Instability is expected to be on the rise over the next four months, until Lai is formally inaugurated on May 20.

No one knows how bad this could get, but Taiwanese officials and foreign diplomats say they don’t expect the situation to be as tense as the aftermath of then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in 2022.

Already, days before the election, China sent several spy balloons to monitor Taiwan, according to the Taiwanese defense ministry. On the trade front, China was also stepping up the pressure, announcing a possible move to reintroduce tariffs on some Taiwanese products. Cases of disinformation and electoral manipulation have also been unveiled by Taiwanese authorities.

Those developments, combined, constitute what Taipei calls hybrid warfare — which now risks further escalation given Beijing’s displeasure with the new president.

3. Lai has to tame his independent instinct

In a way, he has already.

Speaking at the international press conference last week, Lai said he had no plan to declare independence if elected to the presidency.

DPP insiders say they expect Lai to stick to outgoing Tsai Ing-wen’s approach, without saying things that could be interpreted as unilaterally changing the status quo.

They also point to the fact that Lai chose as vice-presidential pick Bi-khim Hsiao, a close confidante with Tsai and former de facto ambassador to Washington. Hsiao has developed close links with the Biden administration, and will play a key role as a bridge between Lai and the U.S.

4. Taiwan will follow international approach

The U.S., Japan and Europe are expected to take precedence in Lai’s diplomatic outreach, while relations with China will continue to be negative.

Throughout election rallies across the island, the DPP candidate repeatedly highlighted the Tsai government’s efforts at diversifying away from the trade reliance on China, shifting the focus to the three like-minded allies.

Southeast Asia has been another top destination for these readjusted trade flows, DPP has said.

According to Taiwanese authorities, Taiwan’s exports to China and Hong Kong last year dropped 18.1 percent compared to 2022, the biggest decrease since they started recording this set of statistics in 1982.

In contrast, Taiwanese exports to the U.S. and Europe rose by 1.6 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively, with the trade volumes reaching all-time highs.

However, critics point out that China continues to be Taiwan’s biggest trading partner, with many Taiwanese businesspeople living and working in the mainland.

5. Lai might face an uncooperative parliament

While vote counting continues, there’s a high chance Lai will be dealing with a divided parliament, the Legislative Yuan.

Before the election, the Kuomintang (KMT) party vowed to form a majority with Taiwan People’s Party in the Yuan, thereby rendering Lai’s administration effectively a minority government.

While that could pose further difficulties for Lai to roll out policies provocative to Beijing, a parliament in opposition also might be a problem when it comes to Taiwan’s much-needed defense spending.

“A divided parliament is very bad news for defense. KMT has proven that they can block defense spending, and the TPP will also try to provide what they call oversight, and make things much more difficult,” said Syaru Shirley Lin, who chairs the Center for Asia-Pacific Resilience and Innovation, a Taipei-based policy think tank.

“Although all three parties said they wanted to boost defense, days leading up to the election … I don’t think that really tells you what’s going to happen in the legislature,” Lin added. “There’s going to be a lot of policy trading.”



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Europe’s Silicon Valley? No thanks

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CAMBRIDGE, England — This city wears many crowns: the fastest growing in Britain, the world’s most intensive research cluster and the university with the highest number of tech founders.

It also has Britain’s second highest level of inequality and one of the lowest amounts of rainfall of any U.K. city.

The tension between those titles has come to a head in the government’s bid to turn Cambridge into “Europe’s Silicon Valley.” Housing Secretary Michael Gove wants to build more than 150,000 new homes there by 2040, more than doubling the city’s size and triple the number local planners had earmarked for the area.

“Nowhere is the future being shaped more decisively than in Cambridge,” Gove said in a speech in December. “Its global leadership in life sciences and tech is a huge national asset. But until now… its growth has been constrained.”

He envisaged a new quarter with “beautiful Neo-classical buildings, rich parkland, concert halls and museums.” A new development corporation would be established to deliver the vision “regardless of the shifting sands of Westminster,” Gove said.

But in the face of mass house-building and water shortages; the investors, city leaders, businesses and environmentalists POLITICO spoke to for this article were skeptical of the scale of the government’s ambitions for their city.

They say they have other ideas.

Growing in a drought

The biggest obstacle to the city’s growth plans is a shortage of water. 

Plans for 9,000 homes and 300,000 square meters of research space, including a new cancer hospital, are being held up after the Environment Agency raised fears about water scarcity. Meanwhile, the area’s local water utility, Cambridge Water, is having to rework its latest management plan to account for the government’s inflated target.

The city pumps its water from underground chalk aquifers, but its rivers and streams are drying up. Levels in the River Cam have been 10 centimeters below their 2013 average for the last four summers.

“There is absolutely no point talking to us about expansion… unless you can solve the water problem,” said Cambridge Science Park director Jane Hutchins.

The science park wants to build a new campus and Hutchins said “we need to be able to accommodate growth at pace and in a timely manner, but we are all very conscious that we can’t do it at the cost of the environment.”

The Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire has expressed similar concerns.

Plans for 9,000 homes and 300,000 square meters of research space are being held up after the Environment Agency raised fears about water scarcity | Cambridge City Council

The government has put £3 million into a water scarcity group and hopes a new reservoir in the Fens will solve the problem. But that is at least ten years away. In the meantime it is looking to rainwater harvesting, reducing consumption and a new pipeline.

Gove said in December that “new steps to help manage demand for water in new developments” would come in the new year.

Investors, tech founders and university leaders told POLITICO the water supply problem can be overcome, but environmentalists see it as an existential threat.

Sitting in a rooftop restaurant above the Cam, Tony Eva, whose film Pure Clean Water examines the city’s water crisis, said: “How many times can you say we will solve the problems caused by growth with more growth?”

“The shortage of water is not a new feature, we have known [about it] for 60 to 70 years… These clever people have sat on their hands and now they are having to do something. In one sense it is too late.”

Grow your own way

Wendy Blythe, chair of the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations, agreed.

She argues that Cambridge has had enough growth and the “goodies” should go to less affluent parts of the country. Critics of Gove’s plan point out that the minister in charge of “leveling up” is putting forward a policy that could do the opposite.

“Lots of things are happening to Cambridge to become a ‘Silicon Valley,’ and ordinary residents are paying for it,” Blythe said.

Grappling with these problems is Tabitha Goldstaub, a tech entrepreneur and executive director of Innovate Cambridge, a group set up by the university and investors to come up with a more sustainable innovation strategy.

“We’d like to be as successful [as Silicon Valley] but we don’t want to be as socially unequal,” she said.

Income inequality in Cambridge, measured as the gap between the poorest and richest residents, is the second highest in England and Wales, only behind Oxford, and it is widening.

But Goldstaub said the city had “woken up” to the challenge and that supporting local people was a key pillar of an innovation strategy which it unveiled in October.

Income inequality in Cambridge is the second highest in England and Wales | Cambridge City Council

Innovate Cambridge hopes to get the wider population behind that strategy by showing the benefits of living close to so much research, such as better cancer survival rates at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

It has also set up a community fund for founders to pledge a percentage of money they make from selling their startups in the future. 

Pro-vice-chancellor for enterprise at Cambridge University, Andy Neely, said: “We need to make it clear to people why the research and cluster is improving the quality of their lives.”

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities says investing in Cambridge will reduce regional inequality. A spokesperson for the department told POLITICO: “We must be ambitious and expand the city and we will only do that through sustainable development.”

We’ll think, you’ll make

On the three-minute walk from the city’s main railway station to the office of VC firm Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC), you pass offices for Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. But the city is more proud of the startups which have spun out of its university.

New arrival Gerard Grech, who has joined the university to lead a program supporting tech founders, said he was astounded by the innovation in the city. “In my first week here I met someone who had sold businesses to Google, to Apple and to Microsoft. I could not believe it,” he said.

The area around the station is also where Goldstaub hopes to build a new innovation center, where she sees VCs, researchers and startups mingling and coming up with new ideas.

But despite its concentration of creativity, some say the government’s “Silicon Valley” ambitions should be spread across larger parts of the country, rather than focusing on Cambridge.

The city has recently signed a partnership with Manchester to pitch their respective tech hubs as a single cluster to investors, and Goldstaub says such deals should be “the exemplar” going forward.

Semiconductor firm Pragmatic provides a model for this type of development. The company is aiming to become the U.K.’s biggest semiconductor manufacturer, and its founders moved from Manchester to Cambridge for its talent. It is still headquartered in Cambridge, but does most of its manufacturing in Sedgefield, north-east England.

CIC was an early investor in Pragmatic, which completed a £500 million funding round this month.

Andrew Williamson, managing partner at CIC, said this was an example of “a hub and spoke” model which Cambridge excels in.

A report on the university’s economic impact suggests it is generating £30 billion of economic value in the U.K. and supporting 86,000 jobs | Cambridge City Council

“Where the model differs from Silicon Valley is Cambridge is 150,000 people… so we are tiny. What we can do here is fundamental research and the first few steps of the commercialization of that research, but we’re clearly not going to do manufacturing at scale.”

Sai Shivareddy has learned that over the last two years. He co-founded Nyobolt, which designs and manufactures super-fast chargers and batteries for EVs.

The company spun-out from the university and was valued at £300 million last year, but it has struggled to find suitable manufacturing sites in Cambridgeshire. Shivareddy said he is now looking to manufacture in north England or Scotland, as well as Asia.

Giving out the goodies

A report on the university’s economic impact suggests it is already helping the leveling up agenda by generating £30 billion of economic value in the U.K. and supporting 86,000 jobs, more than 30,000 of which are outside the east of England.

“The way the U.K. will compete with Silicon Valley is to think in large clusters,” Neely said, pointing to the Oxford-Cambridge Arc and the Manchester partnership. 

“Cambridge can play a really powerful role providing the boosters but it can’t just be Cambridge.”

Rebecca Simmons, chief operations office at Cambridge quantum firm Riverlane, agreed. “I don’t think Cambridge can do it all,” she said. “If we want to get bigger, we have to do it across the country. Particularly in the quantum world — Oxford, Bristol, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, they’ve all got good hubs mostly based around universities.”

“It’s important that we step up and connect the dots between the various cities in this country,” said Grech, who led startup incubator Tech Nation for a decade. “For me, Silicon Valley is a mindset. I think we should basically adopt its mindset and apply it everywhere.”



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Speed is everything for patients: together we can bring medicines faster

Working in our industry brings huge responsibility. We deal with people’s lives, and our  medicines give people an opportunity to improve their health, often at the most overwhelming time for them. I had a strong reminder of that recently.

Last month, I met with a colleague, Heiko, who lives in Germany. His young daughter has central nervous system (CNS) neuroblastoma — a type of cancer that tends to affect children under the age of five.

Heiko and his family have been navigating the health system for months, including an overload of information in the form of complex ‘oncological-speak’, treatment guidelines and health insurance claims. They have also been dealing with constant travel to specialist centers — all while juggling the emotional burden of caring for a sick child and the daily challenges of home and work life.

He shared something that stuck in my mind the night I spoke with him, which serves as an important reminder for all of us working in health care.

“Trust must be bigger than fear.”

When their health is at stake, friends, families and colleagues put their trust in their local health care system — every part of it, including industry — in the hope of protecting the future for them and their loved ones.

As Heiko put it to me, “Speed is everything. If you gain enough speed, you gain enough time. And if you have time, you have the hope of more options that can help you.”

Faster, more equitable access to new, life-saving medicines for people living in Europe is a goal that I believe we all share. There are challenges in achieving this, but we at Roche are committed to addressing these, together with everyone involved.

It is the inequality in access to medicines that is untenable.

Teresa Graham, CEO, Roche Pharmaceuticals, and chair EFPIA’s Patient Access Committee | via EFPIA

The average time that patients in the EU wait to get access to a new medicine is around 517 days. Uptake of new technologies can be low and slow, but it is the inequality in access to medicines that is untenable. If you have cancer in Germany, you may need to wait, on average, 128 days to access a new medicine, but if you are a patient in Romania it will take you 918 days to receive the same treatment.

I am concerned that Europe’s policymakers believe this can be fixed with legislation alone. And, even if it could, families like Heiko’s do not have the luxury of waiting four to five years for the ongoing revision to the EU pharmaceutical legislation to attempt to resolve these issues.

Improving access to medicines requires solutions that are developed in partnership with everyone who has a stake in their delivery: industry, member states, health regulators, payers, patients and health care providers. With the right ambition and desire for collaboration, we can act now.

The crucial first step is for governments and policymakers to treat spending on health care and innovation as an investment in economic growth and societal advancement. Improving health care and expanding access to innovation are vital for reducing pressure on health care systems, maintaining a healthy and productive society, and driving future economic growth.

Governments and policymakers have a pivotal role in enabling and encouraging this cycle of improved health and economic benefit. We must take a strategic view of investing in innovation, acknowledging the wider societal value it provides, and find sustainable ways to manage immediate fiscal challenges that do not limit or delay access to new medicines and technologies.

The industry is also driving changes. One concrete commitment pharmaceutical companies have made is to file new medicines for pricing and reimbursement in all member states within two years of EU approval of a new medicine. This will improve timely access to the latest innovations.

The industry has also established a portal for tracking access delays and ensuring companies are held accountable in meeting the two-year filing commitment.

With the right ambition and desire for collaboration, we can act now.

With multiple ongoing legislative changes currently taking place in Europe — from the revision of the EU’s Pharmaceutical Legislation, to the EU’s reform of Health Technology Assessment (HTA) and the introduction of the European Health Data Space (EHDS) — we have a unique opportunity to build a stronger and better European environment for life sciences and health care that serves patients’ best interests. One major opportunity for collaboration is the implementation of the EU’s HTA regulation. This aims to address access delays by streamlining and accelerating highly fragmented HTA processes across Europe. There is only one year to go before this either becomes a meaningful contributor to faster access decisions for patients or — if not adequately in focus during 2024 — risks becoming an additional hurdle for patient access to essential treatments. In order to avoid this scenario, industry involvement in the implementation of EU HTA is crucial to leverage expertise, co-design relevant processes, and ultimately ensure a workable system.

Such actions can reduce some of the delays in accessing new medicines, but they will not solve everything. The majority of delays come from the variation and delays in individual countries’ reimbursement and health care systems. That is why it is critical that member states, payers and health systems collaborate with industry to develop tailored access solutions. 

However, there are also proposals on the table today that are concerning and at face value will not lead to improved access for patients. For instance, the EU Commission is proposing to reduce a company’s intellectual property rights — specifically regulatory data protection (RDP) — if a medicine is not available in all member states within two years of receiving marketing authorisation. This would only hinder innovation, without delivering faster, more equitable access to new medicines.

If this were to go ahead as proposed, Europe would become a less attractive place for research. A recently-published study on the impact of the European Commission’s proposal estimated that it would reduce Europe’s share of global R&D investment by one-third by 2040.

I firmly believe this proposal must be reconsidered and focused on policy solutions that ensure patients in Europe continue to benefit from innovation.

As Heiko says, speed, time and hope are all people have. Often, patients are waiting for the next innovation, during which time, their disease progresses or their condition deteriorates. This makes the next clinical trial, the next regulatory approval, the next standard of care, the next reimbursement decision absolutely vital for those who simply cannot wait.

Across industry, there are more than 8,000 new medicines in the global pipeline today. This is the hope Heiko needs, and families like his are trusting us all to deliver.

Speaking with Heiko reminded me that the most effective treatment is the one that makes it to the patient when they need it. It is now our collective responsibility to find the path to making this happen for patients everywhere in Europe.



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Transforming HIV prevention in Europe

This article is part of POLITICO Telescope: The New AIDS Epidemic, an ongoing exploration of the disease today.

The world’s battle to end the HIV epidemic is being fought on two fronts. The first involves getting as many people as possible who are living with the virus diagnosed and rapidly onto antiretroviral medication. This reduces the virus inside their bodies to such a low level that it is undetectable and therefore cannot be passed to others. The approach is known as “undetectable = untransmittable” or “U=U*.”

The second front is focused on protecting people from contracting the virus in the first place, even if they have been exposed to it — an approach known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. Taken as prescribed, PrEP makes a person’s body almost entirely resistant to HIV infection.

There is a critical need to bring forward new PrEP options that are informed by and designed for the communities that could benefit from PrEP in Europe.

Jared Baeten MD, PhD, vice president for HIV clinical development at Gilead Sciences

PrEP comprises antiretroviral drugs that can be taken intermittently, around the time someone expects to be sexually active. They protect against the virus in two ways: by increasing the production of antibodies in the cells in the rectal or vaginal lining, making them less receptive to HIV in the first place, and by interfering with the ability of HIV to replicate in the body.

Nearly 5 million people around the world have taken PrEP at least once — including about 2.8 million in Europe — and it has been shown to reduce the incidence of HIV infection during sex by 99 percent. In the European Union, new HIV infections have fallen by about 45 percent since PrEP was licensed in 2016, although this decline is also partly due to U=U.

PrEP as part of combination prevention strategies

Missing doses or running out of PrEP can mean becoming susceptible to HIV again. I via Shutterstock

Today, PrEP comes primarily in the form of an oral tablet, which has the advantage of being cheap to produce and easy to store. But it is not a universal solution. Because it needs to be taken regularly while someone is sexually active, missing doses or running out can mean becoming susceptible to HIV again. What’s more, in the same way that some bacteria are developing resistance to antibiotics, the HIV that does enter the bodies of people who have paused or discontinued their use of PrEP has a greater chance of being resistant to subsequent antiretroviral medications they may then need.

PrEP taken in tablet form is also an issue for people who need to keep their use of PrEP private, perhaps from family members or partners. Having to take a pill once a day or two or three times a week is something that may be hard to hide from others. And some people, such as migrants, who may not be fully integrated with a country’s health care system, may find it hard to access regular supplies of daily medication. Limitations such as these have prompted the development of alternative, innovative ways for people to protect themselves that are more tailored to their needs and life situations. These include longer-acting drugs that can be injected.

Like existing oral medications, injectable PrEP works by preventing HIV from replicating in a person’s body, but its effect lasts much longer. In September, the EU approved the use of the first intramuscular injectable that can be given every two months. Gilead is, until 2027, running trials of another injectable option, which, once the required efficacy and safety have been demonstrated, could be administered subcutaneously just once every six months. This would be more convenient for many people and more adapted to the circumstances of certain populations, such as migrants, and may therefore lead to better adherence and health outcomes.

HIV continues to be a public health threat across Europe, where in 2022 more than 100,000 people were newly diagnosed with HIV.

Jared Baeten MD, PhD, vice president for HIV Clinical Development at Gilead Sciences

Further ahead — but still in the early stages of development and testing — are patches and implants, which would provide a continuous supply of antiretroviral drugs, and immunotherapies. Immunotherapies would comprise a broad spectrum of naturally produced or manufactured antibodies against HIV, which, in theory, would pre-arm their bodies to resist infection.

As more types of PrEP become available, we will see a greater awareness of its benefits, as more people are able to find the version of PrEP that best suits their living conditions and personal requirements. This is a fundamental principle of “combination prevention,” or innovative interventions that reflect the specific needs of the people they are trying to reach.

Preparing for the future

Despite clear scientific evidence of the benefits of PrEP, there are still some hurdles we need to overcome to make it a powerful tool to end HIV altogether. These include investments and funding in prevention and availability, and programs to combat stigma.

Although the EU licensed PrEP in 2016, availability varies across the bloc. In France, the U.K., Spain, Germany and, more recently, Italy, oral PrEP is available at no cost to those who would benefit from it. In Romania, although PrEP is included in the country’s new HIV National Strategy, it is not yet funded, and it is only available via non-governmental organizations that rely on external funding sources. And in Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria, PrEP is not state funded and there are no current plans to make it so. In many member states, even though PrEP is technically licensed, in practice it can be hard to get hold of, in particular for specific communities, such as women, migrants or trans people. Potential users may find it hard, for example, to access testing or even doctors who are willing to prescribe it.

Jared Baeten MD, PhD, vice president for HIV clinical development at Gilead Sciences

Another key challenge that health systems and providers face is communicating the importance of PrEP to those who would most benefit, and thereby increase uptake. Many respondents in multiple studies have indicated that they don’t feel HIV is something that affects them, or they have indicated that there is a general stigma in their communities associated with sexual health matters. And some groups that are already discriminated against, such as sex workers, people who inject drugs, and migrants, may be hesitant to engage with health care systems for fear of reprisals. Again, injectable PrEP could help reach such key populations as it will offer a more discreet way of accessing the preventive treatment.

“There is a critical need to bring forward new PrEP options that are informed by and designed for the communities that could benefit from PrEP in Europe,” says Jared Baeten MD, PhD, vice president for HIV clinical development at Gilead Sciences. “At Gilead, we are excited to engage with communities and broader stakeholders to inform our trials efforts and partner with them in our goal to develop person-centered innovations that can help end the HIV epidemic in Europe.”

Europe is leading the world’s efforts toward ending HIV, but, even in the bloc, PrEP usage and availability varies from country to country and demographic to demographic. If the region is to become the first to end the HIV epidemic entirely, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the governments of member states will need to lead the way in fighting stigma, promoting and prioritizing HIV prevention in all its aspects including innovation in therapeutics strengthening the financing and funding of healthcare systems, and establishing effective pathways to zero transmission to end HIV entirely.

“HIV continues to be a public health threat across Europe, where in 2022 more than 100,000 people were newly diagnosed with HIV,” says Baeten. “HIV prevention is critical and has the potential to change the trajectory of the epidemic, but stigma and other barriers limit the impact that PrEP medications can have on reducing HIV infections in Europe. We all have a responsibility to collaboratively partner to make this work.”

*U=U is true on two premises: taking HIV medicines as prescribed and getting to and staying undetectable for at least six months prevents transmitting HIV to partners through sex. Undetectable means that the virus cannot be measured by a viral load test (viral load <200 copies/mL)



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How to get tech right in Europe?

As our societies navigate challenging times and undergo widespread digital transformation, fostering growth in our homegrown tech businesses has never been more critical to achieving the wider goals of the European project.

Via EUTA. Kristin Skogen Lund, president, European Tech Alliance; CEO, Schibsted

The European Tech Alliance (EUTA) represents leading tech companies born and bred in Europe. We believe that with the right conditions, EU tech companies can enhance Europe’s resilience, boost our technological autonomy, protect and empower consumers, and promote European values such as transparency, the rule of law and innovation to the rest of the world.

The European Commission’s ambitious targets for 2030 in the Digital Decade program represent a vision for a sustainable and more prosperous digital future. However, more is needed if we are to achieve our goals.

Europe must boost its tech competitiveness over the next five years. To unlock European tech leadership both at home and beyond, we need to have an ambitious EU tech strategy to overcome growth obstacles, to make a political commitment to clear, targeted and risk-based rules, and to pursue consistent enforcement to match the globalized market we are in.

An EU strategy for European tech

We need a strategy for European tech that empowers digital companies to grow and use new innovation tools to deliver the best services and products, including personalized experiences, to their users. European tech companies are valuable assets for Europe. They deserve to be nurtured and supported.

Europe must boost its tech competitiveness over the next five years.

In practice, this could take on several forms. For instance, we need to unlock the power of data as a key lever for innovation while respecting consumer privacy. Privacy-enhancing technologies and pseudonymization should be further promoted by lawmakers and regulators to empower European companies to use data, grow and remain competitive.

A European strategy for talent to enhance European companies’ attractiveness could also be pursued. Developers should be pushing the limits of innovation, using their imaginations to improve the services and products from European companies, rather than focusing their unique talents on compliance tasks.

Lastly, EU tech companies should have a seat at the table when proposed rules affect their ability to invest in Europe and to provide good services, products and experiences. Bringing in expertise from the ground up would facilitate the growth of European champions at global, national and regional level.

Smart rules for a stronger Europe

The digital world is a fully-regulated sector with a wide range of new and updated rules. It is essential to give these rules time to play out before assessing their efficiency and impact on EU tech companies.

For instance, the EU’s consumer protection framework was recently updated with the ‘Omnibus Directive’. These new rules started applying from May 2022 onward only, yet they were up for another partial revision less than a year later. Businesses need time to put rules into practice, and lawmakers need time to analyze their effects in the real world, before amending the rulebook once again.

European, national and regional measures should complement each other, not clash or duplicate efforts. The ink of the Digital Services Act (DSA) was not even dry when some EU countries added extra layers of regulation at national level, such as the French law for online influencers and the proposed bill to secure and regulate the digital space. There must be a strong focus on avoiding national fragmentation where EU laws exist. Otherwise we are moving further away from a truly single market that is the cornerstone of European competitiveness.      

Where EU rules are needed, lawmakers should focus on concrete problems and be mindful of different tech business models, for example, retailers vs. marketplaces; new vs. second-hand goods, streaming vs. social media. Rules should address problems with specific business models instead of a one-size-fits-all approach or dictating specific product designs. Any proposed solution should also be proportionate to the problem identified.

Better enforcement for fairer competition

One of the big problems we face in Europe is ensuring a level playing field for all businesses, to achieve fair competition. The EU has enshrined these values in the Digital Markets Act (DMA). We must not lose sight of this ambition as we turn to the all-important task of enforcement of the DMA.

European, national and regional measures should complement each other, not clash or duplicate efforts.

Better cooperation should be encouraged between regulatory authorities at national level (for example, consumer, competition and data protection) but also among European countries and with the EU to ensure coherent application.

Now that the European Commission takes on the new role of rule enforcer, it’s of paramount importance to place a strong focus on independence, separate from political interests. This will ensure a robust and impartial enforcement mechanism that upholds the integrity of the regulatory framework.

What’s next?

European tech companies in the EUTA believe the EU can take two crucial steps for our competitiveness, so we can continue to invest in Europe’s technological innovation and European consumers.

First, the EU digital single market is incomplete, we need to avoid 27 different interpretations of the same EU rules. A strong harmonization push is needed for EU companies to grow faster across the Continent.

Second, we look toward the EU, national governments and authorities to bring economic competitiveness and innovation to the core of regulation, and then to enforce these rules fairly and equally.

EUTA members are companies born and bred in Europe. The EU is a crucial market and we are deeply committed to European citizens and European values. With our EUTA manifesto, we propose a vision so Europe can succeed, and our own European champions can grow and become global leaders.



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It’s time to hang up on the old telecoms rulebook

Joakim Reiter | via Vodafone

Around 120 years ago, Guglielmo Marconi planted the seeds of a communications revolution, sending the first message via a wireless link over open water. “Are you ready? Can you hear me?”, he said. Now, the telecommunications industry in Europe needs policymakers to heed that call, to realize the vision set by its 19th-century pioneers.

Next-generation telecommunications are catalyzing a transformation on par with the industrial revolution. Mobile networks are becoming programmable platforms — supercomputers that will fundamentally underpin European industrial productivity, growth and competitiveness. Combined with cloud, AI and the internet of things, the era of industrial internet will transform our economy and way of life, bringing smarter cities, energy grids and health care, as well as autonomous transport systems, factories and more to the real world.

5G is already connecting smarter, autonomous factory technologies | via Vodafone

Europe should be at the center of this revolution, just as it was in the early days of modern communications.

Next-generation telecommunications are catalyzing a transformation on par with the industrial revolution.

Even without looking at future applications, the benefits of a healthy telecoms industry for society are clear to see. Mobile technologies and services generated 5 percent of global GDP, equivalent to €4.3 trillion, in 2021. More than five billion people around the world are connected to mobile services — more people today have access to mobile communications than they do to safely-managed sanitation services. And with the combination of satellite solutions, the prospect of ensuring every person on the planet is connected may soon be within reach.

Satellite solutions, combined with mobile communications, could eliminate coverage gaps | via Vodafone

In our recent past, when COVID-19 spread across the world and societies went into lockdown, connectivity became critical for people to work from home, and for enabling schools and hospitals to offer services online.  And with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when millions were forced to flee the safety of their homes, European network operators provided heavily discounted roaming and calling to ensure refugees stayed connected with loved ones.

A perfect storm of rising investment costs, inflationary pressures, interest rate hikes and intensifying competition from adjacent industries is bearing down on telecoms businesses across Europe.

These are all outcomes and opportunities, depending on the continuous investment of telecoms’ private companies.

And yet, a perfect storm of rising investment costs, inflationary pressures, interest rate hikes and intensifying competition from adjacent industries is bearing down on telecoms businesses across Europe. The war on our continent triggered a 15-fold increase in wholesale energy prices and rapid inflation. EU telecoms operators have been under pressure ever since to keep consumer prices low during a cost-of-living crisis, while confronting rapidly growing operational costs as a result. At the same time, operators also face the threat of billions of euros of extra, unforeseen costs as governments change their operating requirements in light of growing geopolitical concerns.

Telecoms operators may be resilient. But they are not invincible.

The odds are dangerously stacked against the long-term sustainability of our industry and, as a result, Europe’s own digital ambitions. Telecoms operators may be resilient. But they are not invincible.

The signs of Europe’s decline are obvious for those willing to take a closer look. European countries are lagging behind in 5G mobile connectivity, while other parts of the world — including Thailand, India and the Philippines — race ahead. Independent research by OpenSignal shows that mobile users in South Korea have an active 5G connection three times more often than those in Germany, and more than 10 times their counterparts in Belgium.

Europe needs a joined-up regulatory, policy and investment approach that restores the failing investment climate and puts the telecoms sector back to stable footing.

Average 5G connectivity in Brazil is more than three times faster than in Czechia or Poland. A recent report from the European Commission — State of the Digital Decade (europa.eu) shows just how far Europe needs to go to reach the EU’s connectivity targets for 2030.

To arrest this decline, and successfully meet EU’s digital ambitions, something has got to give. Europe needs a joined-up regulatory, policy and investment approach that restores the failing investment climate and puts the telecoms sector back to stable footing.

Competition, innovation and efficient investment are the driving forces for the telecoms sector today. It’s time to unleash these powers — not blindly perpetuate old rules. We agree with Commissioner Breton’s recent assessment: Europe needs to redefine the DNA of its telecoms regulation. It needs a new rulebook that encourages innovation and investment, and embraces the logic of a true single market. It must reduce barriers to growth and scale in the sector and ensure spectrum — the lifeblood of our industry — is managed more efficiently. And it must find faster, futureproofed ways to level the playing field for all business operating in the wider digital sector.  

But Europe is already behind, and we are running out of time. It is critical that the EU finds a balance between urgent, short-term measures and longer-term reforms. It cannot wait until 2025 to implement change.

Europeans deserve better communications technology | via Vodafone

When Marconi sent that message back in 1897, the answer to his question was, “loud and clear”. As Europe’s telecoms ministers convene this month in León, Spain, their message must be loud and clear too. European citizens and businesses deserve better communications. They deserve a telecoms rulebook that ensures networks can deliver the next revolution in digital connectivity and services.



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Harnessing innovation in robotic-assisted surgery


For nearly three decades, Intuitive has been developing innovative approaches in the field of minimally-invasive care. We are guided by the belief that minimally-invasive care can be life changing, that patient outcomes can be profoundly improved and that enhanced clinical outcomes can sustainably lower the total cost of comprehensive care.

Our focus is on helping customers in Europe and around the world achieve better outcomes, better surgeon and care team experiences, better patient experiences and lower cost of care. Positive impact in these areas requires a holistic effort that includes not only leading-edge, integrated systems and software, but also an ecosystem of education and support that extends across the patient care pathway and the broader health care system.

What is robotic-assisted surgery?

27 years ago, Intuitive launched the da Vinci robotic-assisted surgical system, transforming the field of minimally-invasive surgery.

Robotic-assisted surgery is a form of minimally-invasive surgery performed by a surgeon using a computer-assisted system to operate through small incisions using tiny, wristed instruments. Robotic-assisted surgical systems do not perform surgery on their own and they do not replace surgeons. Surgeons completely control da Vinci robotic-assisted surgical systems, while seated at an ergonomic console that uses high-definition, 3D vision to magnify the patient’s anatomy. The surgical system translates the surgeon’s hand movements in real time to bend and rotate the instruments with greater flexibility, precision and range of motion than the human hand. This approach can augment a surgeon’s skills and capabilities while allowing them to continue to apply their judgment and experience.

To date, more than 12 million da Vinci robotic-assisted surgical procedures have been performed worldwide — including more than 1.2 million in Europe — across a range of procedures including urology, gynecology, colorectal, thoracic, general surgery and more.

Robotic-assisted surgery is a form of minimally-invasive surgery performed by a surgeon using a computer-assisted system to operate through small incisions using tiny, wristed instruments.

A growing body of research, including more than 34,000 peer-reviewed studies, suggests that minimally-invasive, robotic-assisted surgery can offer patients benefits in many cases, depending on the procedure, including one or more of these benefits: less blood loss, fewer complications, shorter hospital stays, and less chance of hospital readmission.[i]

The added value of robotic-assisted surgery for European health care systems

Since the first robotic-assisted da Vinci prostatectomy was performed in Germany nearly 20 years ago, more than 1,500 da Vinci systems have been installed in Europe, highlighting Europe’s strong demand for this innovative technology. But, while Europe has helped drive this technology forward, more can be done to help hospitals in Europe become world leaders in the 21st century.

Similar to health care systems around the world, Europe faces challenges including rising health care costs, a pressured workforce, aging populations and increasing burdens of disease. At the same time, patients across Europe are seeking equitable access to innovative, high-quality care.

Using our more than two decades of experience working with hospitals and health care systems across Europe, we strive to offer solutions to these multifaceted challenges that are aligned with our customers’ clinical and economic capabilities and goals. A key insight from our experience is that we must provide more than a “robotic-assisted surgical system”; we must be a “technology-enabled solutions partner and provider”. Robotic-assisted surgery as a modality can help drive better patient outcomes; robotic-assisted surgical programs as a key part of a hospital’s care pathway can help optimize the cost and efficiency and advance the delivery and quality of care.

As one example, we collaborate with hospitals to examine opportunities to sustainably increase throughput and introduce efficiencies that can allow them to treat more patients and reduce patient backlogs. Solutions that our customers have enacted as a result of these engagements include improving operating room set up time, scheduling optimization, standardizing pre-operative planning for care teams, and starting surgical days earlier. 

In all cases, we work to assure that any effort is seamlessly integrated into the workflows of our hospital customers and their broader patient care pathways, and that our success is defined and measured in alignment with their goals.

Training

Central to our holistic approach is our technology training, which is essential to maximize patient safety and a vital part of any successful robotic-assisted surgery program. Our four-phase training pathway combines skills and technology training with opportunities for health care professionals around the world to learn from their peers. Our robust training offerings include a combination of simulation, virtual learning, in-person observation and hands-on training, with high-quality tissue models and peer-to-peer mentoring, proctoring and advanced learning opportunities. The training tools and technologies we offer are informed by our unique understanding of best practices and can help users build their skills by targeting individualized areas for improvement.

We believe that our robust training programs are contributing to the development of the next-generation health care workforce.

Last year, we became the largest provider of robotic-assisted surgical technology training to have our full global training portfolio accredited by The Royal College of Surgeons. And, our industry-leading offerings are more available than ever across both virtual and in-person opportunities; we now have more than 25 training centers and partnerships across Europe.

Looking forward, we believe that our robust training programs are contributing to the development of the next-generation health care workforce and motivating existing surgical staff to stay within our health care systems. We will continue to evolve and innovate our training offerings by listening to and learning from surgeons and teams to identify the practices that lead to better results and hone our efforts to offer meaningful interoperative guidance.

Total cost to treat

While there is an upfront investment in robotic-assisted technology, the experience of hospitals across Europe shows that da Vinci systems can help realize a return on this investment. The benefits of minimally-invasive care — fewer complications and readmissions, less blood loss, less pain — help to avoid higher ‘downstream’ costs and resource use associated with traditional, or “open” surgery, which typically requires longer hospital stays and presents a greater risk of post-operative complications.[ii] Robotic-assisted approaches, like the da Vinci system, can therefore help to reduce the costs and resources associated with a complete patient journey, or ‘episode of care’.

An important indicator of the economic value of this cost avoidance can be found in hospitals’ investment decisions in recent years. Based on their own medical records, financial data, and unique reimbursement and cost structures, hospitals are increasingly choosing to commit to robotic-assisted technology. Our own data shows that the number of hospital Integrated Delivery Networks, or IDN’s, with more than seven da Vinci systems has increased by more than 150 percent in the past five years.[iii] We believe this demonstrates a trend from cautious adoption to standardization based on recognized value. This trend brings the benefits of minimally-invasive care to an increasingly larger number of users, helping to accelerate and compound the potential savings to the health care system over time.

A vision for 2030: a future of European health care excellence

The next European Commission term will almost reach the end of this decade, serving as a useful marker for us to imagine where Europe could be in health care delivery by 2030.

Looking ahead, it will be essential that policymakers create an environment where advancements in robotic-assisted tools and technology, digital health and patient-focused innovation can be seamlessly integrated in a way that prioritizes patient safety and facilitates equitable access to and adoption of innovative technology.

The infrastructure and tools needed for future success are already present. Europe can lead the way in creating this environment, in part by avoiding policies which inhibit this kind of integration and innovation through duplicative or conflicting regulatory structures. We look forward to contributing to an ambitious agenda to bring cutting-edge health care, training, and innovations to European patients and health care professionals.

This material may contain estimates and forecasts from which actual results may differ.


[i] Bhama, A. R., et al. (2016). “Comparison of Risk Factors for Unplanned Conversion from Laparoscopic and Robotic to Open Colorectal Surgery Using the Michigan Surgical Quality Collaborative (MSQC) Database.” Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery: 1-8

Oh, D. S., et al. (2017). “Robotic-Assisted, Video-Assisted Thoracoscopic and Open Lobectomy: Propensity-Matched Analysis of Recent Premier Data.” Annals of Thoracic Surgery 104(5): 1733-1740.

Ran, L., et al. (2014). “Comparison of robotic surgery with laparoscopy and laparotomy for treatment of endometrial cancer: a meta-analysis.” PLoS ONE 9(9): e108361.

Speicher, P. J., et al. (2014). “Robotic Low Anterior Resection for Rectal Cancer: A National Perspective on Short-term Oncologic Outcomes.” Annals of Surgery.

Tam, M. S., et al. (2015). “A population-based study comparing laparoscopic and robotic outcomes in colorectal surgery.” Surgical Endoscopy and Other Interventional Techniques.

Pilecki, M., et al. (2014). „National Multi-Institutional Comparison of 30-Day Postoperative Complication and Readmission Rates Between Open Retropubic Radical Prostatectomy and Robot-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy Using NSQIP (National Surgical Quality Improvement Program)“ Journal of Endourology, 430 – 436.

Tewari A, et al. “Positive Surgical Margin and Perioperative Complication Rates of Primary Surgical Treatments for Prostate Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Comparing Retropubic, Laparoscopic, and Robotic Prostatectomy,” Eur Urol. 2012 Feb 24.7.

Carbonell, A. M., et al. (2017). “Reducing Length of Stay Using a Robotic-Assisted Approach for Retromuscular Ventral Hernia Repair: A Comparative Analysis from the Americas Hernia Society Quality Collaborative,” Annals of Thoracic Surgery.

Lim, P. C., et al. (2016). “Multicenter analysis comparing robotic, open, laparoscopic, and vaginal hysterectomies performed by high-volume surgeons for benign indications,” International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics.

O’Neill, Michelle, et al. “Robot-assisted hysterectomy compared to open and laparoscopic approaches: systematic review and meta-analysis,” Archives of gynecology and obstetrics 287.5 (2013): 907-918.

Geppert B, Lönnerfors C, Persson J. “Robot-assisted laparoscopic hysterectomy in obese and morbidly obese women: surgical technique and comparison with open surgery.”  Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 90.11 (2011): 1210-1217. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0412.2011.01253.x. Epub.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Intuitive internal data measuring from year end 2017 to year end 2022.



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Why we need to improve heart health in Europe

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the number one killer in Europe. They cost the EU an estimated €282 billion in 2021, larger than the entire EU budget itself.[1] Sixty million people live with CVDs in the EU, while 13 million new cases are diagnosed annually.[2]

Behind this data are individual stories of suffering and loss, of lives limited and horizons lowered by, for example, heart attack and stroke. These diseases directly affect every community in every country. And they strain our health services which must respond to cardiac emergencies as well as the ongoing care needs of chronic CVD patients.

Sixty million people live with CVDs in the EU, while 13 million new cases are diagnosed annually.

Cardiovascular health is a priority not just because of the scale of its impact, but because of the scope we see for significant advances in outcomes for patients. We should take inspiration from the past: between 2000 and 2012, the death rate from CVDs fell by 37 percent in the five largest western European countries (France, Germany, the U.K., Spain and Italy).[2] This progress was achieved through a combination of medical innovations, and supported by a mix of health care policies and guidelines that propelled progress and improved patients’ lives.

New treatments can now help prevent strokes or treat pulmonary embolisms. Others can delay kidney disease progression, while at the same time preventing cardiovascular events.

Despite progress, this downward trend has reversed and we are seeing an increase in the CVD burden across all major European countries.

And the research continues. Precision medicines are in development for inherited CVD-risk factors like elevated lipoprotein(a), which affects up to 20 percent of the population.[3] A new class of anti-thrombotics promises to bring better treatments for the prevention of clotting, without increasing the risk of bleeding. New precision cardiology approaches, such as gene therapy in congestive heart failure, are being investigated as potential cures.

Despite progress, this downward trend has reversed and we are seeing an increase in the CVD burden across all major European countries.[4]

Getting the definitions right

This year’s World Heart Day, spearheaded by the World Heart Federation, comes amid the revision of the EU pharmaceutical legislation. The European Commission’s proposal of a narrow definition of unmet medical need, which could hamper innovation is causing deep concern across stakeholders.

Instead, a patient-centered definition of unmet medical need taking the full spectrum of patient needs into consideration, would incentivize more avenues of research addressing the needs of people living with chronic conditions. It would provide a basis for drafting the next chapter in the history of cardiovascular medicines — one that we hope will be written in Europe and benefit people in the EU and beyond. Not only would this inspire advances that help people to live longer, but it would also improve quality of life for those at risk of, and affected by, cardiovascular events.

Unmet medical need criteria currently included in the draft Pharmaceutical Legislation would do a disservice to patients by downplaying the chronic nature of many CVDs, and the importance of patient-reported outcomes and experience.[5] And many of the advances seen in recent decades would fall short of the narrow definition under consideration. This limited approach disregards incremental innovation, which might otherwise reduce pain, slow disease progression, or improve treatment adherence by taking account of patient preferences for how therapies are administered.

Much of the illness and death caused by CVD is preventable — in fact, 9 out of 10 heart attacks can be avoided.

At this moment it is unclear how the unmet medical need criteria in the legislation will apply to these and other situations. Policymakers should create a multistakeholder platform with the space to discuss patients’ needs, getting expert views from medical societies, patients and industry to better understand the innovation environment. The European Alliance for Cardiovascular Health (EACH), a multistakeholder network comprised of 17 organizations in the CVD space in Europe, stands ready to inform policymakers about the CVD burden and the pressing needs of patients. [6] EACH not only supports the EU´s endeavor to develop more policies on CVD, it also supports and promotes the idea of an EU Cardiovascular Health Plan to work towards better patients’ health care across the EU and more equal health standards. So far, structured discussions with such stakeholders do not sufficiently take place, and we risk missing those opportunities, and lose in both patient access as well as R&D attractiveness of the EU.

Primary and secondary prevention

As well as driving future innovation, Europe must also make the best possible use of the tools we have now. We must do what works — everywhere.

At the heart of this approach is prevention. Much of the illness and death caused by CVD is preventable — in fact, 9 out of 10 heart attacks can be avoided.[7] Primary prevention can dramatically reduce rates of heart attack, stroke and other CVDs. Secondary prevention, which includes screening and disease management, such as simple blood tests and urine tests, as well as blood pressure and BMI monitoring, has a key role to play in containing the burden of disease. [8]

Joint cardiovascular and diabetes health checks at primary care level, taking an evidence-based approach, would help diagnose and treat CVD before the onset of acute symptoms.[9] By following current treatment guidelines and protocols, health care professionals across Europe can help to prevent complications, improve health outcomes for patients and save health care costs. Also here, a multistakeholder approach is key. Policymakers should not miss out on listening to the CVD multistakeholder alliances that have already formed — at EU and at EU member countries level, as for example EACH. These partnerships are great ways for policymakers to better understand the needs of patients and to get the experts’ views.

Research-driven companies exist to meet the needs of patients in Europe and around the world. We need to create an environment that enables companies to embark on complex and unpredictable trials. That means having the rights incentives and clarity on the regulatory pathway for future treatments.


[1] https://www.escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/Price-tag-on-cardiovascular-disease-in-Europe-higher-than-entire-EU-budget

[2] https://iris.unibocconi.it/retrieve/handle/11565/4023471/115818/Torbica%20EHJ%202019.pdf

[3] https://www.acc.org/Latest-in-Cardiology/Articles/2019/07/02/08/05/Lipoproteina-in-Clinical-Practice

[4] https://www.efpia.eu/about-medicines/use-of-medicines/disease-specific-groups/transforming-the-lives-of-people-living-with-cardiovascular-diseases/cvd-dashboards

[5] https://health.ec.europa.eu/medicinal-products/pharmaceutical-strategy-europe/reform-eu-pharmaceutical-legislation_en

[6] https://www.cardiovascular-alliance.eu/

[7] https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/STROKEAHA.119.024154

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5331469/

[9] https://www.efpia.eu/news-events/the-efpia-view/statements-press-releases/because-we-can-t-afford-not-to-let-s-make-a-joint-health-check-for-cardiovascular-disease-cvd-and-diabetes-happen/



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Beyond forgetfulness: Why we must act on Alzheimer’s disease now

In the face of an increasingly aging population, today’s reality reveals a harsh truth: health systems in the EU and beyond are ill-equipped to provide early and timely diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and embrace innovative treatments that could help to preserve memory and, with it, independence.  

Recent advances suggest that timely intervention may hold the promise to slow the memory decline in Alzheimer’s disease, making early diagnosis more critical than ever before. Yet without the necessary health care infrastructure in place to diagnose and provide treatment, we risk missing the crucial early window and the opportunity to delay — and hopefully in the near future prevent — distressing symptoms for patients and heartbreaking experiences for families.  

The EU and its member countries have the opportunity to be remembered for leading in this space by increasing funding for research, improving health care infrastructure to support accurate diagnosis and timely intervention, and enhancing support services at a national and regional level. The forthcoming European Parliament elections in June 2024 are the ideal moments to make that pledge. For individuals, families and health care systems, Alzheimer’s disease is a ticking time bomb unless we invest in our future health today.  

The EU is not prepared for Alzheimer’s disease  

In Europe, approximately 7 million people are affected by Alzheimer’s disease, a number set to double to 14 million by 2050.1 On top of the physical and emotional distress this will cause, there are direct financial and social implications on families and communities, with Alzheimer’s costs expected to reach a staggering €250 billion by 20302 — bigger than the GDP of Portugal3 — placing an additional and substantial weight on global health care systems that are already struggling under cost and capacity burdens.4 

Timely diagnosis stands as a cornerstone in determining the appropriate treatment for patients.

That’s why MEP Deirdre Clune is leading the call for a European Parliament hearing to discuss a focused EU strategy on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. “Timely diagnosis stands as a cornerstone in determining the appropriate treatment for patients,” argues Clune. “Therefore, the EU must create a strategic framework which lays out clear recommendations for national governments and recognises the toll of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease on societies across Europe, encourage innovation and take on board best practices to develop effective and efficient approaches. Together, with a unified approach and firm commitment, the EU can pave the way for better Alzheimer’s care.”

In the next EU political mandate, policymakers must answer the call by developing a comprehensive EU Beating Dementia Plan that specifically addresses the unique challenges posed by Alzheimer’s disease and building on established coordinated action plans for other significant health burdens, such as the EU Beating Cancer Plan. The European Brain Council and EFPIA’s, RETHINKING Alzheimer’s disease White Paper is a useful resource, calling for policymakers to rethink Alzheimer’s and offering policy recommendations to make tangible changes to improve the lives of people living with the disease.  

EU member countries must commit to investing in diagnostic infrastructure, technology and integrated care that can help to detect Alzheimer’s disease at an early stage and ensure timely intervention resulting in the preservation of memory and, thereof, independent living and normal social functioning.  

Laying the foundations at national level  

While action is certainly needed at the EU level, huge opportunity lies at the national and regional levels. Each member country has the chance to apply well-funded national dementia plans that tailor their strategies and responses to address the distinct needs of their populations, making a real and meaningful impact on the people and health systems in their country.  

Inspiration stems from Italy, which recently launched its Parliamentary Intergroup for Neuroscience and Alzheimer’s, dedicating its efforts to raising awareness, fostering discussions among national and regional institutions, promoting clinician and patient involvement, supporting novel research, implementing new diagnostic models, and strengthening patient access to care. 

Italian MP Annarita Patriarca, co-host of the Parliamentary Intergroup, affirms: “Primary responsibility of a member state is to ensure to all citizens the greatest standards of diagnosis and access to treatment and care. Thus, it is necessary to put in place a strong collaboration between the public and private sector to strengthen investments in neurological diseases. Improving patients’ diagnostic and care pathways, especially in a disease area like AD with such a high unmet medical need and societal impact will be the core focus of the intergroup.” 

Additionally, during the Alzheimer’s and Neuroscience Conference: a priority for the country in July, members of the Italian Parliament importantly put forward legislative and regulatory solutions to ensure an early and accurate diagnosis. 

Leading the conversation on the international stage   

Amid the growing burden of Alzheimer’s disease globally, this is a moment for policymakers to hold each other accountable. Member countries are uniquely placed to do this within the EU but also across the wider health care ecosystem, calling on countries and leaders to honor prior commitments that prioritized investment in relieving major health burdens, including Alzheimer’s.  

Encouragingly, the May G7 Hiroshima Leaders’ Communiqué specifically recognized and supported dementia as a freestanding issue, breaking away from the typical categorization with NCDs. Moreover, the G7 health ministers published a joint Communiqué spotlighting the priority to “enhance early detection, diagnosis and interventions, including developing care pathways and capability and capacity building of health and primary care providers by strengthening primary health care (PHC)”.  

These promising steps mean that Alzheimer’s disease is beginning to gain the recognition it deserves but also acts as a line in the sand to ensure complacency doesn’t creep in. Collectively, EU countries must assume a leading voice within the international fora, ensuring that Alzheimer’s disease remains a global health care priority and receives the investment it warrants. 

Time to commit to action in Alzheimer’s disease  

September marks World Alzheimer’s Month, and its theme Never Too Early, Never Too Late, reiterates the importance of early diagnosis. It presents a valuable foundation to initiate discussions on country- and regional-level strategies to drive and strengthen diagnostic infrastructure and services for the prevention, diagnosis, case management, monitoring and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Unless we act now, a generation of people will be forgotten as they begin to lose their memories.

“Unless we act now, a generation of people will be forgotten as they begin to lose their memories,” shares Frédéric Destrebecq, executive director of The European Brain Council. “By recognizing the urgency of the situation and making concerted investments, we can forge a path toward a more compassionate, empowered future for individuals, families and communities impacted by Alzheimer’s, and remember all those who’ve been lost to this devastating disease.”

It is never too early, never too late, to be remembered for taking action against this debilitating disease.  

References:  

1 – Jones RW, Mackell J, Berthet K, Knox S. Assessing attitudes and behaviours surrounding Alzheimer’s disease in Europe: key findings of the Important Perspectives on Alzheimer’s Care and Treatment (IMPACT) survey. The journal of nutrition, health & aging. 2010 Aug;14:525-30.  

2 – Cimler R, Maresova P, Kuhnova J, Kuca K. Predictions of Alzheimer’s disease treatment and care costs in European countries. PLoS One. 2019;14(1):e0210958. Published 2019 Jan 25. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0210958 

3 – Published by Statista Research Department, 20 J. GDP of European countries 2022. Statista. June 20, 2023. Accessed August 1, 2023. https://www.statista.com/statistics/685925/gdp-of-european-countries/. 

4 – The Economist. Why health-care services are in chaos everywhere. Available at:  https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2023/01/15/why-health-care-services-are-in-chaos-everywhere. Accessed: July 2023.  



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High-quality recycling loops are best for circular economy

On Europe’s journey to a circular economy, high quality recycling is essential. In fact, the recycling of fibre-based packaging constitutes one of the best examples. If you put your used paper products in the right recycling bin, you can count on them making their way to a facility that will recycle those materials so they can be used again many times to make packaging for breakfast cereal, boxes to carry your online deliveries, newspapers, and a whole host of other useful products.

Currently, about 75 percent of the raw materials used for the fibres in our packaging come from recycling. The rest comes from sustainably-managed forests. Our packaging helps keep fossil fuels in the ground, playing its part in making our planet greener. This is why fibre-based materials are widely recognized as one of the most sustainable choices available for packaging.

This is why fibre-based materials are widely recognized as one of the most sustainable choices available for packaging.

The EU’s packaging waste regulation: a key chance to enhance recycling systems

At Fibre Packaging Europe we believe the upcoming Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) has a key role in making recycling even better. We now have a chance to set an ambitious 90 percent separate collection target for all EU member countries.  Here separate collection means transferring materials from your paper and board bin to the recycling plant. There is no better way to ensure that our packaging reaches recyclers after it has been used, and it will further increase an already-remarkable 81.5 percent recycling rate (Eurostat, 2020), higher by volume than plastic, metal and glass combined.

Where we see a risk in the PPWR is if the regulation gets the definition of ‘high-quality’ recycling twisted by restricting it only to what it calls ‘closed loops’. A closed loop means a cereal box would need to be recycled into another cereal box. When fibres are allowed to be recycled universally into any paper and board application and product, it is effective, it is resource efficient, and it reduces CO2 emissions through avoided transportation (to that cereal box factory). Most importantly, it is a good and simple way to continue increasing recycling rates.


Brought to you by Fibre Packaging Europe

Don’t get the loop twisted: why material loops make most sense for paper

But don’t just take it from us. We spoke to seasoned professionals in the recycling business that Fibre Packaging Europe represents to hear first-hand their thoughts on closed loops, the real challenges recyclers face and what can be done to overcome them.

Does closed-loop recycling have a role to play for fibre-based packaging? John Melia, strategy development and innovation director at DS Smith’s Recycling Division, is very clear on this point. “Closed-loop recycling of paper packaging would make no sense in a mature, well-functioning recycling system built on a thriving market for secondary raw materials. It would bring disruption to the market, reduce the quality and lifespan of fibre, and increase the use of fossil fuels in the supply chain. This would be a significant step back from the high-performing recycling system we have today.” 

Recycling systems based on ‘material loops’, on the other hand, mean that the raw materials we get from recycling processes are used in way that is far more versatile. They can be used to make a wide range of sustainable products that we use every day. The system works, and there is already in Europe a unique, thriving market for secondary raw materials in the fibre-based industry. In 2020, 56 million tons of ‘Paper for Recycling’ collected were transformed into equally high-quality new paper and board products.

If fibres get to the right recyclers, they have the tools to do the job

So how to make a high-quality recycling system even better? It all starts with collection.

“All fibre-based packaging is recyclable if, through collection and sorting, the material is guided to the right type of recycling mill”, explains Michel Willems, European Business Coordinator at Smurfit Kappa Recycling. ‘Separate’ collection systems, ones where non-paper materials such as plastic, metal and glass are collected separately from used paper products, can make it much easier to sort and send the material to the right recycling facilities. When it comes to fibre-based packaging products that are discarded by households, there’s an opportunity to further increase recycling rates.

So how to make a high-quality recycling system even better? It all starts with collection.

As a general principle, the more homogenous a fibre-based waste stream is, the easier it is to find the correct mill to do the recycling. Nonetheless, the great advantage of fibre packaging recycling is that a homogenous waste stream is not an absolute necessity for the majority of paper-based products. Most can easily be collected in the same bin, for example, at home. Such a stream, following standard quality checks, is ready for immediate recycling at many mills throughout Europe”, said Michel.

“Our business is built around reducing the environmental impact of packaging on the planet, improving supply chains for billions of people. We have an excellent, high-performance recycling system for cardboard with the highest recycling rate of any packaging material in Europe. Corrugated board packaging occupies a very special place because it has been the most recycled product forever. We recycle a box a minimum of 25 times in its life. At the end, it just returns to nature. Our environmentally friendly product is 100 percent renewable, recyclable and biodegradable”, added Michel.

For John Melia, this point is far more important to a successful circular economy than looking at changing recycling systems. “The EU should be focusing on what we know will bring rates of paper recycling even higher: better recycling infrastructure including increased segregation of recycling raw materials through separate collection of municipal waste,” he says. “We in the industry are doing our part, but achieving the full potential of the fibre recycling system will only be possible through government policies that focus on what we know will make a difference.”

So, when we look to complete the loop on the circular economy, let’s listen to the recyclers themselves. Let’s build on the high-quality recycling that already exists to build a greener Europe with the packaging products we know are sustainable.



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