Interview with Kateřina Konečná –

Interview with Kateřina Konečná

Ott 13, 2021
Roma, 13 ott. (askanews) – In February 2021, 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 BECA Committee, a Special Committee on Beating Cancer, to work on its own draft Report. Askanews is hosting a series of interviews to hear straight from the BECA Members what their priorities and commitments are and how their Report will fit in with the European Agenda.

I am Lorenzo Peiroleri editor at Askanews and I have the honour to host our third interview with our guest, Coordinator in the BECA Committee, Member of the European Parliament’s European United Left/Nordic Green Left Group, Kateřina Konečná from the Czech Republic. Welcome.


Q. Let’s start with a general question on the latest discussions and the Report. What are your political group’s main priorities for the Cancer Plan and what do you think the largest conflicts will be?

A. The main goal is to focus on prevention, early detection and diagnosis, proper treatment and most important improving the quality of life for patients. If you know my work, the patients are at the top of my work and I want to be, as coordinator, somebody who will advocate for patients. That means that the effort to cooperate is certainly a step forward in order to reduce the inequalities that currently exist, we need to say, because we know how the situation is in member states, and we hope that we find and analyses some troubles that we have in the member states. The EU Beating Cancer plan goes even further and tries to take into account socioeconomic factors affecting cancer patients, child and adolescent patients, diagnosis, occupational health and safety, and HPV virus survivors, support climate and environment. Everything is there. But there is something that’s causing a little bit of trouble now for me and where we have a problem as a group: the plan tries to capture all the aspects that cancer affects, which I think is unrealistic. It contains so many different sectors, that I would call it unacceptable. Ambitious is not the same as successful. It contains so many different sectors that, in effect, it’s a cluster of uncounted proposals that even then have missed certain groups of patients. For example, because I’ve been working with patients all my political life, patients with rare diseases, head and neck diseases or prostate diseases, and I certainly haven’t listed them all. This combined with the desire to go along with the Pharmaceutical Strategy and to take into account how much COVID has affected the suspension of treatment for cancer patients, we are left with a script that has something to say about everything. And as a result, nothing is elaborated. This is what we are now working on with the Shadow from our group. From my point of view, for example, I would like to see there more harm reduction, for example, in the field of alcohol or tobacco use. We have to finally admit that we cannot limit the consumption of these substances to zero. There are many things, I think that we now need to discuss in the Shadow meetings. I’m not there, but I’m a coordinator. I have great colleague from Cyprus from our political group. We will see what happens in the end. But now we see many problems and we need to find solutions


Q. You mentioned the Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe is being linked to the Cancer Plan, do you think the pharmaceutical strategy can help tackle unequal access to treatment and ensure that all cancer patients in the EU have access to affordable medicines?

A. I think that the first step needs to be the change the Patent Law, because without it we saw with the COVID vaccine, that it’s impossible to change many things. Also more compulsory licenses. Yes, I think that the Pharma Strategy, if we take it in our hands, the good way, we could find or could support all things that we are doing now in European Parliament, because it’s not only about the Pharma Strategy, it’s also new EMA, new ECDC mandate, cross-border health care. We have many health files in the European Parliament.


Q. Financial constraints are often a factor but not just for access to cancer treatment, but across the board. Looking at the current structure, do you think the current proportions of funding are correct?

A. About the financing, especially if you take the EU4Health Program on which I work, we have now 10 times more resources than we have in the last health program. BECA will take 30 percent of the whole funds and it will still be just a drop in the sea. You can spend all the money you have in the health systems but Member States have to find more money in their own budget also. It cannot be only money from the European Union. I understand that we now have a Recovery Fund, EU4Health Program and other programs. But on the other side, (Member States) must use their resources because without them, it will be very difficult to find a good solution. I think that we need to find huge money for prevention because from my political life and from my discussion with the with the patients and with colleagues, I think now we know that the prevention needs to be the first step before anything.


Q. On prevention and harm reduction which you have rightly highlighted as a fundamental. When the Cancer Plan was officially published in February, how would you say the Commission incorporated the harm reduction policy in its actions and are you satisfied or disappointed with the way it was done?

A. If you’re asking me about the role of the Commission, I need to say they ignored our argument about harm reduction. This is a reason why we are preparing with my colleagues some amendments in our Reports from European Parliament. I hope that we will be correctly discussing about it because first of all, we have to understand, that this is a social problem in the first place. Yeah. I think that it’s impossible that the Commission ignores us and our argument. For example, if you’re speaking about smoking, some groups will never stop smoking. And ok, then we could say we that we can use bans and bigger tax solutions but it means that these people will be smoking normally and will find money for smoking anywhere. And we would create social problems. So that means that, from my side, we cannot use just bans or bigger tax solutions, we have to give them something which is healthier and we need to open discussions about this and not only in the European Parliament, but we want open debate with the European Commission and DG Sante. But I’m disappointed if you’re asking me simply, I’m disappointed on this topic, and how Commission works with this topic.


Q. The solutions you mention seem to have been successful for many trying to stop smoking, from using nicotine gum to vaping. We know that smoking rates between EU countries are very different. In some countries health authorities are already recommending that smokers switch to these tools like vaping, if they cannot stop smoking on their own. If these were encouraged more, do you think smoking and cancer rates would drop in Europe and will this be included as one of the recommendations from the European Parliament as well?


A. I don’t know yet what the recommendations will be, it’s very open. We are now explaining our position and debate is not easy because sitting around a table of seven people. I really don’t know what’s going to be in the end in December in our report. But if we will do the same as we did, the situation will be just stable, in my opinion, because we have already tried all the tools. But what we did not actually try, are the more healthy variants.


Q. We have spoken about prevention and treatment. One thing I’d like to ask about is implementation of the Cancer Plan. Some time ago you said that if Member States do not see the Cancer Plan as a priority, it will be hard to implement the Plan. What do you think is the situation right now? And with elections coming up in the Czech Republic in October, do you think the Cancer Plan will be a priority for the new government?

A. I hope that it’s a priority not only in pre-election campaigning, because now we’re discussing a lot about these topics, but on the other side, some politics will likely remember their promises. That means that it’s actually one of the main topics in the campaign of our Prime Minister’s Party now. But what happens after election, this is the question. But on the other side, in the Czech Republic, we are now starting a new Prevention Program and new Screening Cancer Program, and I think it’s not so much in the hands only of us as politicians, but of the great work of doctors and hospitals. We have a great hospital not in Prague, but in Brno which was established, especially for cancer patients and I think it’s a perfect example of how to do it. Sometimes it’s better if politicians find money and give it to the experts. Experts and doctors know what to do with this money. (I do not like debates on what politicians or decision makers will be doing – Unclear). It’s not our work. Our work is to find the money and sign a political support for these topics. But in the end, it’s in the hands of experts and doctors and patients. It means that yes, now it’s campaign and I hope that they don’t forget, after 10 days or 9 days.


Q. One final question. The BECA report has to look at cancer from many different sides, including trying to balance prevention, treatment and research. MEP Trillet-Lenoir tweeted the other day that 1544 amendments were submitted. That is a lot. What would you say are your top two issues you will be advocating for through amendments and discussions?

A. I am preparing, I don’t know, 30 – 40 amendments, in coordination with NGOs and with experts. It’s not only from my mind, but it’s the result of consultation that I had with experts, patients, with their families and so on. For example, for me, it’s very, very important the right to be forgotten. And I hope that all political parties know that now it’s the topic number one, because we had in the Beca Committee, many and long debates about this topic. And I think it’s really unfair for patients. The second is harm reduction and rare cancer because, as I said in the beginning, we forget about rare cancers, pediatric cancer, compulsory licensing, right to be forgotten. But also sharing of clinical data and data protection. This is such a huge question in the Report, because sometimes it’s a trouble sharing clinical data (Unclear). For example from Czech Republic some data it’s very difficult to share for experts. But on the second hand, you need to say the data protection needs to be enhanced step-by-step and also transparency of clinical trials, I think. This is what I have in mind, maybe it’s not all but these are the main and (most) important issues for me and  my team, I think.

Thank you very much. This has been hugely and informative. Many thanks again to Kateřina Konečná for joining us.

Thank you to our viewers, and see you at our next interview with another member of the Beca Committee. For updates on the European Cancer Plan, please visit our AskaEurope section on