Published: 14/07/2005, Volume II5, No. 115 Page 20

Professor Woody Caan, professor of public health, APU Chelmsford campus

Bravo, Professor McCarthy (Speak Out, page 21, 30 June)! At a time when public perceptions of European co-operation are befogged by frenzied tabloids and disingenuous politicians, it is invaluable to be reminded that Britain's EU presidency means a clear window of opportunity for new health research.

This week alone I have used Megapole [EU cities initiative] lessons for English work on prioritising health services for homeless people and have used continental work on sexual tourism by Brits Abroad to interpret our puzzling findings on new cases of chlamydia in the Home Counties. If the UK is ever to get to grips with really thorny health problems like excessive alcohol consumption, then the EU dimensions (eg the transnational economics of alcohol production and sales) must be incorporated into future research and development.

There will always be opportunities to fight our continental neighbours (especially those French rascals). But as recent events in the Solent to celebrate Trafalgar show, when the prevailing wind is blowing our way, everyone can join in for a good time.

Dr John Lister, Information director, London Health Emergency The guarded optimism of Mark McCarthy's comment on Britain, the EU and health policy is likely to prove ill-founded.

The danger is that the government will throw its weight behind reactionary proposals and further undermine the elements of social solidarity which have survived longer in the EU than the UK.

One immediate example of this has been foreign secretary Jack Straw's declaration of the government's determination to press ahead with the controversial 'Bolkestein directive', which would allow open competition and the marketisation of almost all services throughout the EU, including healthcare and health insurance.

In March, 75,000 trade unionists from across the EU marched through Brussels in protest at the legislation. The European TUC has warned that it could 'speed up deregulation, seriously erode workers' rights and protection, and damage the supply of essential services to European citizens'.

Of course Mr Blair is trying to export policies already adopted at home: the increasing privatisation and marketisation of health care is proceeding at break-neck pace, with little or no systematic evaluation of the results.

Britain has already suffered more healthcare reforms than any other country in the world.

There is unfortunately little reason to believe that a government so deaf and blind to criticism and alternatives at home would be more favourably disposed to the development of more EU-level research on health care systems and policies, which Professor McCarthy correctly urges as a useful way forward.

Instead we have the grim prospect of Mr Straw promising that the UK presidency will 'seek a better balance between public health, environmental protection and competitiveness': no prizes for guessing which of these three is a New Labour priority - and which two will take a back seat.

See news analysis, pages 14-15.