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In Spring 1998 the previous European Commission (EC), sometime before all the Commissioners resigned en masse, published a discussion document on future directions for European Union (EU) public health strategy.1 EU policies in this field date from 1993, when public health responsibilities were given to the EU by the Maastricht Treaty.2 By 1998, eight separate funded public health programmes had been established, although the overall funding available to support these was rather small. The 1998 discussion document suggested that these eight programmes should be replaced by one funded public health programme, for which there could be more efficient and streamlined administrative arrangements than had been possible for eight different programmes.1 This new programme would also be in a position to support a wider variety of more flexible public health initiatives across the EU. Other proposals included the development of a new information system covering public health across the EU as well as some categories of health service data, so that comparisons between member states would be easier to achieve, and a capacity within to EU to ensure rapid response to new health threats.
Because of the manner in which the old EC was replaced by the new one, definitive proposals did not emerge until earlier this …