Interview with Nicolás González Casares –

Interview with Nicolás González Casares

Mag 24, 2021
Hello everyone and welcome to Askanews EU Verified Series. In February 2020 when the European Commission presented its long awaited flagship initiative, Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, featuring four pillars prevention, diagnosis and treatment and quality of life of cancer patients, the European Parliament gave a one year mandate to make a committee, a special committee on beating cancer to work on its own. The draft report, Askanews, is hosting a series of interviews to hear straight from BECA members what their priorities and commitments are and how their report will fit in with the European agenda.

I am a Lorenzo Peiroleri, editor at askanews, and I have the great pleasure to host our second interview with our guest, the shadow rapporteur in the BECA Committee and a member of the Parliament’s socialist group, Nicolás González Casares. Welcome, Mr. Casares. Hello, thank you.

Thank you for the meeting and is good to stay with you.

Q. So let’s start with a question about the BECA report. What are the main priorities for your political group and what do you see as the biggest political obstacle to fighting cancer in Europe?

A. For me, the main priorities are, first, the lifestyle and prevention. This is the first point, how to improve, how to manage legislation in these fields, because first, we need more intensity of legislation in prevention in Europe and of course, how to deal with some issues like the tobacco directive and how to improve this tobacco directive, for example, in the next year with these new tobacco products. But of course, early diagnosis and the early detection of cancer, new improvements, new technologies are developed now. So we must think how to incorporate them in the early detection of cancer. And of course, for me, as a nurse, it’s very important how to improve the care of patients, not only from the early states and the treatments and surgery, of course, also in the ending life of patients that I think in the plan presented by the commission is no well recognised for me. There are big inequalities depending on the country you live. So this is one of the great challenges that we have in our Committee now.

Q. Now, let’s get into the more detail, having practiced medicine as a nurse, you are very familiar with how health care systems work and the need for the EU to play a bigger role in EU’s health care. Do you think Member States will realistically allow more power to the EU and how would you see this working?

A. We must make a force in this Committee and we must create strong standards for the different member states to comply. And we must solve also how the different member states adopt new technologies, new medicines and new individualise treatments in the whole EU providing not only with funding, we have now the Next Generation EU, and of course, Horizon Europe, that is one of the is the biggest research program in Europe, but also with trying to work with the member states in order to get a better access to prevention, early diagnosis and treatments. I know is going to be very difficult. But now we are involved in a pandemic, a hard pandemic for every country in Europe. So we must learn how important is to coordinate also at EU level the health care.

Q. That is very ambitious. The committee has had a lot of discussion on equal access and the disparities of health care across Europe, how will you approach this in the report and will there be a crossover with pharmaceutical strategy?

A. OK, my approach will be always have all the stakeholders involved, that all of them can give their opinion to this Draft Report, we have to work with the pharmaceutical industry, of course, now I’m also working there, reinforce the European Medicines Agency, regulation for crisis I am the Rapporteur here in the parliament also for this for this file, and I am bound to work with the pharmaceutical industry now. And I know that they are want to make more investment, for example, in cancer treatments. But they are worried about how to transfer this possibility to all member states. Because in these inequalities that we are seeing where we are serving the different countries of the EU is one of the problems that are facing also the pharmaceutical industry, but also patients. So maybe we have a common interest in this field to work together. So I will try to get involve all of them.

Q. You said earlier that prevention is a “fundamental pillar of the fight against cancer”. After hearing experts in the committee and digging into the subject, how does this align with other aspects such as research or cure?

A. I think the best cancer you can have is the one that you don’t have, this is the first view that we have to see in our approach to cancer. So prevention is very important. Maybe we have a genetic destiny in our body and we have more people with more risk to suffer cancer. But of course, with prevention, with better lifestyle, maybe you can delay cancer in your life. OK, so this approach is not only to prevent cancer, but also how to delay the appearance. So prevention is very, very important. And lifestyle, of course. We know which are the main lifestyle that cause cancer, we know that tobacco, sun exposure, the pollution, the way we are feeling. So it is very important to give this information to the people, always in a continuous way.

Q. You have mentioned lifestyle choices several times. In many cases, if people make choices and they know that are bad for their health, like eating too much sugar or red meat or drinking too many glasses of wine, do you think proposing labeling and health warnings on alcohol will have the right outcome? And how should the EU tackle this – restrict access to products or invest in consumer awareness campaigns?

A. OK, I think we can work in different directions. First, labelling, I think the best, and the people, the consumers have the right to decide their lifestyle. And, of course, wine or spirits are not the same for me or, for example, in the level and quantity of alcohol, of course. But we have to keep in mind the consumer rights and in the labelling we must introduce the ingredients of the different beverage. Of course, we have to do that because it’s the right of the consumers and it’s going to be very easy in some beverages. But how to give information to the patients in labelling of the different bottles, like in the tobacco boxes and packets? I don’t know right now, which is the best way to do it, because we cannot put a lot of labels in one bottle. We have to work with that. And keep in mind that the different levels of alcohol that we have in beverage. So here is the other direction that we can choose is the direction of work, giving you more information about the risk of cancer and make more campaigns about the risk of cancer in this case for alcohol. It’s very important to have this in mind. So I think that is not only labelling, it’s also about campaigning against the abusive consumption of alcohol. And give information to the people about the different level. A responsible consumer for example of wine, maybe it’s not a problem. You can see that, for example, in Spain or Italy where you live, two glasses of wine, maybe we have grandparents that live until 100 years drinking two glasses of wine every day. So maybe this this is not a problem. But you try for these two glasses of whiskey every day maybe is different.

Q. And for smoking, you say you’re worried about the increasing spread of these new generation of products. Can you tell me why?

A. I worry not about the products itself. I worry about the companies, because they are saying that these products are harmless, good, and is not real because it’s tobacco and it is an addiction. OK, it’s an addiction. And these products are also addictive. Maybe these products help some people to decrease the damage of smoking or even help them to live the habit. OK, but at the end of the day, what the companies are trying to do is getting involved in this addiction young people, because they are using also like a technological approach over smoking. These new products are as if you have your cell phone and you have your technology smoking. And this is a bad approach because they are trying to get involved more addicts in our society, in young people. OK, so for me, this is the real problem. The real problem is they they want to keep the same level of addicts in our society for tobacco because they need a future for tobacco. And they know that tobacco in new generations is something bad. They have more information that people with 60, 70 or 80 years. They have more information for very, very young people. So I think that they are trying to confuse this consumers. On that field, so I am asking him to review the Tobacco Directive, the council plan of the commission table, that they are going to propose a revision by 2023 and I will ask the commission to do next year, because I think it is an urgency on on this field of the new tobacco products.

Q. We spoke a lot about addiction and the new products, but what about all the smokers that can’t just quit? Should we provide them with an alternative? And could this help to achieve the Commission tobacco free goal?

A. I would like to have this EU tobacco free goal by 2050. I agree with this proposal. But this proposal is against tobacco companies because is the business they are trying to do. But maybe it is unrealistic. Tobacco is very difficult to get away from our lives. I know there are people that are smoking for a long years, a lot of years with this bad habit. And maybe we can manage these people with medical pharmaceutical products or of course, maybe these products, the new products could be better or may be better that than the traditional tobacco. But maybe the companies can put on the table other alternative. For example to ban these new products for different ages, for example, don’t sell and the 50 years, or only for people with with addiction to tobacco, they are allowed to to buy these products. And I think that the answer of the companies, they really don’t like these kind of proposals because they know the business is in the future and the future is the young people. So, of course, they are. They won’t like this kind of proposal.

Q. Changing direction a bit, you are also involved in the Parliament’s work on the air pollution, what is your approach to reduce air pollution? And will it be a contentious issue in the committee?

A. Air pollution is a very important issue here in the Parliament, not only in the Beca Committee, also in the Environmental Health Committee. You know that pollution causes cancer and also causes other deaths with respiratory disease across Europe, mainly in cities. So we know that when a city has a big level of pollution, the diseases will be increased in the future. So we have to try to put levels and restrict the levels of pollution in cities, and of course, we have to create a low pollution or zero pollution zones in big cities, not not so big, I think that cities with most of 50000 of people, inhabitants we must create there zero pollution zones. So with banning the access of some vehicles. I think this is the the way to do it, the way to do it, not only then in big cities, also with very polluting industries. So we have to work on this in this level, of course, also with the automotive industry and giving them also help and funds to invest in the developing or other alternative transports.

Q. Alongside the Green Deal and Cancer Plan, cancer treatment has also been affected by the pandemic. The increase of digital in health care has helped. Do you think this could become best practice going forward for diseases like cancer?

A. So the way we manage the digital approach and the digital transformation, I think is an opportunity to improve the possibility of getting better solution for cancer in the future, but not in future nowadays. So we have to create, and it’s in in the proposals of the Cancer Plan, a good database in Europe for cancer. How the technologies and the treatments are beating cancer in different countries and how the different strategies in member states and approach we can share and analyze with new digital tools, it’s going to be a real jump in the future on this field.

Q. Coordination and digital integration is definitely key for cancer prevention and treatment. One final question – The BECA report looks at cancer from many different sides, including trying to balance prevention, treatment and research if you should rank them in terms of importance. How would you list the following: research, environmental pollution prevention and lifestyle and treatment?

A. First prevention, second research, third early detection. i think research, early detection and then treatments. But I think everything is related. I really don’t like to put these different levels. I put at the first level prevention, of course. But then after prevention, I think that we cannot focus on one level or different levels. We must focus on the whole issues by the same time and work together in the Member States in all these issues. And share with other countries and different Member States, the information we manage because sharing this information will help us to face these inequalities that I mentioned at the very beginning of this conversation.

Thank you very much. This has been insightful. Many thanks again to Nicolás González Casares for joining us and thank you to our viewers and see you at our next interview with another member of the Beca Committee. We’re updating the discussion on the European cancer plan. Please visit our USCA Europe section and ask, can you said Thank you to everybody.

Let’s fight against cancer together in Europe. First defeat this pandemic and then go to cancer.