Here, we recap on the progress of the European campaign and on the UK campaign
European Campaign News
Craig Milward - NAC Vice Chair and Campaigns Team member
The last time we reported on the European campaign in the newsletter was in Autumn 2020. Since then, Brexit, the continuing pandemic and lockdown have made this a challenging time for campaigning. Here, we recap on what’s been achieved so far and where the European campaign is heading next.
What's the Objective of the European Campaign?
To establish a mechanism by which the German Government could contribute to the health and wellbeing needs of thalidomide survivors in those countries where thalidomide was not directly supplied by Grünenthal: Italy, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
What's Been Achieved So Far?
After building a huge amount of ground-up support in the EU Parliament we secured a resolution which achieved unanimous backing, and an impromptu standing ovation in the EU Parliament. It called upon the German government to meet the needs of all thalidomide survivors. This led to a number of meetings with the German government.
Following the German Federal elections in 2017, those we had been negotiating with left their previous roles and we were forced to return to the EU Parliament to build up increased support. Within a few years we had the top German politician in each political group supporting our cause and agreeing to make German money available to thalidomide survivors across Europe via an EU budget.
What Has Happened Recently?
The EU Health Minister decided that the most appropriate budget was the social inclusion element of the European Social Fund. We succeeded in establishing a mechanism through which all countries could gain access to ESF+ funds and the wording we drafted was included in the final text. The ESF+ budget was enacted in January 2021 and applications can now be submitted by the national governments on behalf of the thalidomide community in their country.
So, from the beginning of this year, the solution we successfully negotiated will be accessible by the Italian and Spanish – who have always been in a far worse position than any other group – and the Swedes.
So Is the Battle Over?
Unfortunately, the UK left the EU without a comprehensive agreement, so the UK government is not able to access funds on our behalf.
In anticipation that Brexit may not work in our favour, we began to reach out to influential members of the German Government via our EU contacts back in early 2020, with a view to making a formal request to the German Government that it should establish a special fund to benefit UK beneficiaries who are now unable to access the funds intended for our benefit. We were on the verge of speaking to Ursula von der Layen, President of the EU Commission, the day the EU Parliament locked down.
Whilst a great deal of routine communication can be done online, we have always found that establishing new contacts and forming coalitions of supportive German politicians has to be done face-to-face. Not being able to travel and show our faces has been incredibly frustrating, but we intend to assess the state of play and move forward again as soon as it is safe to travel once more.
UK Campaign News
Mikey Argy - NAC and Campaigns Team Member
The good news we all know from earlier this year, is that the Health Grant has been awarded for life in England with reviews every four years.
This campaign had an extra side to it. Working together with trustees and NAC members in a working group, the Trust staff wrote a detailed 'Case for Support' showing how the Health Grant affects us. This, along with the fantastic support we had from the MPs, meant that the government was bombarded from all sides, and we received our outstanding result.
In the devolved nations, the Trust staff are continuing conversations to achieve comparable results. We have no doubt this will happen, however the Campaigns Team is watching closely and will be ready to take further action should any be needed.