Contemporary history of Europe

Towards a European health policy? The EC/EU response to the AIDS crisis, 1981-1995

21 February 2023

Towards a European health policy? The EC/EU response to the AIDS crisis, 1981-1995
'Europe' seminar with Marion Aballéa, University of Strasbourg

When the first cases of what would be later recognized as AIDS were diagnosed in France, Belgium and the UK in late 1981 and early 1982, the European Community had no legal competence to deal with the emergence of a new disease. More than that, it had no competence to act in the field of public health, which had remained the prerogative of the member states since the beginning of the European integration. But as all member states detected some cases in the following months or years, and as the fear of a deadly pandemic rose in the European public opinion, the EC, which was simultaneously going through a new dynamic of integration (leading to the enlargements of 1982 and 1986, to the Single European Act in 1987, and to the Maastricht Treaty in 1992), was under pressure to “do something” and play a part in the response to the crisis.  

As a result, between the mid-1980s and 1995, when a “Community action on the prevention of AIDS and certain other communicable diseases within the framework for action in the field of public health” was adopted, without any legal basis in the treaties, the EC (the EU after 1992) invented ways to become an actor in the global response to AIDS. Selecting a few specific fields of action, and benefiting from a relative – and unexpected – consensus of the member states on values and ethical issues related to the disease, it explored through AIDS ways of what could later become a real European health policy. 

Marion Aballéa

Marion Aballéa is “maîtresse de conférences” at the University of Strasbourg. She holds a Ph.D. in contemporary history of international relations (University of Geneva/University of Strasbourg). She is currently working on a research project focusing of the HIV/AIDS crisis as an issue of diplomacy and international relations from the emergence of the disease in 1981 to the creation of UNAIDS in 1996.  


Tuesday, 21 February 2023

Starting at 17.00

C²DH Open Space
Maison des Sciences humaines
Belval Campus