On March 8th, 2017 EBC attended the joint meeting of the MEP Interest Group on Brain, Mind and Pain and the Interest Group on Mental Health, Wellbeing and Brain Disorders, hosted by MEP Marian Harkin, held at the European Parliament in Brussels. The topic of the meeting was how to optimize the European social pillar in order to #MakeWorkWork for those affected by brain, mind and pain conditions.


Joop van Griensven (Pain Alliance Europe) welcomed participants and thanked all those involved with obtaining signatures for the Written Declaration on Access to Employment for those affected by neurological disorders and chronic pain conditions. Some 180 signatures were gathered, and while this is not enough for adoption of the Declaration by the European Parliament, this result is positive nevertheless. The work will continue as the Written Declaration will now become a Call to Action (#makeworkwork).

Raquel Cortés Herrera (European Commission, DG EMPL) who presented the rationale and content of the Social Pillar. As the Pillar is in the process of being adopted, it is not possible to prejudge the final content and format, but Raquel Cortés did underline the current Commission’s commitment towards social policy, with the Social Pillar being the most prominent example of this commitment. It will determine the current Commission’s mandate and activity in the social arena.

The structure of the Pillar is based on a thematic approach, set out in three main chapters:

  1. Equal opportunities and access to the labour market: This includes skills development, life-long learning and active support for employment.
  2. Fair working conditions: Needed to establish an adequate and reliable balance of rights and obligations between workers and employers.
  3. Adequate and sustainable social protection: This includes access to health, social protection benefits and high quality services, including childcare, healthcare and long-term care, which are essential to ensure a dignified living and protection against life’s risks.


Donna Walsh (European Federation of Neurological Associations) then spoke. She briefly introduced the focus areas of the MEP Interest Group on the Brain, Mind and Pain, i.e. stigma, quality of life (employment, education), patient involvement and research. EFNA has submitted a joint response with Pain Alliance Europe to the Social Pillar consultation. EU social legislation is central to employment and educational opportunities for those affected by brain, mind and pain disorders. She underlined that health at work is not just a socio-economic issue. In order to avail of the opportunities to access employment that the European Social Pillar could provide, people living with brain, mind and pain disorders need early and accurate diagnosis as well as appropriate treatment and management. Big health inequalities persist across the EU; for instance, two thirds of people with brain disorders receive no treatment and 40% of people with chronic pain report that it is not adequately controlled. Therefore, the EU and its Member States must acknowledge that accurate, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment/management are necessary to enable those with chronic conditions to optimize the social acquis covered by the European Social Pillar.

The next panelist, Andreea Antonovici (European Multiple Sclerosis Platform), briefly introduced her organisation and its work in relation to employment, such as a Call to Action on Access to Employment for People with MS was launched in 2015, supported by over 70 MEPs and the ‘Believe and Achieve’: a paid internship programme aimed to create opportunities for young people with multiple sclerosis to develop their professional skills through partnerships with businesses across Europe. In relation to the Social Pillar, EMSP has submitted a response which focuses on the need to tackle inequalities and make the necessary changes to make sure EU legislation is being applied at national level in order to put an end to discrimination. EMSP pledges for the empowerment of people with disabilities as they need to have access to the right tools and information in order to stand up for their rights. As already underlined by Donna Walsh, because there is no common definition of disability, accepted and implemented in all Member States, determining eligibility for income maintenance is still difficult. This leads to employers finding gaps in the law and patients being discriminated.

The final panelist was Katie Gallagher (European Patients’ Forum), who briefly introduced her organisation and its mission. EPF’s vision is that all patients in the EU should have equitable access to high-quality, patient-centered health and social care. One of the most pressing and social priorities is the need to develop a supportive working environment for patients. Patients can face stigma or discrimination at work at various stages which prevents them from entering/remaining in the labour market. Ensuring that workplaces offer support for patients is crucial to achieve Europe2020’s goal of “smart, sustainable and inclusive growth”

The final speaker, Sam Kynman (European Pain Federation EFIC) gave a brief presentation of his organisation’s campaigning and advocacy work to raise awareness of the personal and societal impact of pain. EFIC will organise a large symposium during the Maltese EU Presidency (where the Maltese President will speak), as a direct result of advocacy efforts. The Italian Presidency (2014) also paid attention to pain and its impact and EFIC will concentrate on the Estonian Presidency next. These are small but necessary steps which will create the required momentum at some point – someday pain may be used as an indicator for health policies across the EU.

In conclusion, Nessa Childers MEP (left) called on participants to keep on raising their voices and stimulating awareness as many of the health conditions that have an impact are still not visible enough. We need to work together as the more these topics are spoken about the more impact they will have.

Marian Harkin MEP closed the meeting with two messages: the first related to the importance of connections, i.e. MEPs feeding all comments on the Social Pillar presented today into the system that would eventually produce a Social Pillar, connecting to the right people to put the messages across (like in the Maltese example) and connecting the important work of OSHA to the work done by the NGOs, which is a two-way process. The second related to the fact that it is the responsibility of us all to ensure a social Europe in the future, where the voice of citizens counts.

 To read the full report written by Brain, Mind, Pain click here.