Athens’ decision to claim the European Medicine Agency’s relocation from London sends a message that medicine is “not just a commodity but a social good”, Greece’s Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs, Georgios Katrougalos, told EURACTIV.com.
He also said that the candidates that will not pass the European Commission’s evaluation report on the “objective criteria” should leave the race as early as the first round on their own initiative.
He spoke to EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos in Athens.
- Europe should better balance its social and economic dimensions.
- Ireland and Estonia join the southern coalition to jointly negotiate with pharmaceuticals on pricing.
- Greece fulfils the objective criteria to host the EMA.
- The political element of the EMA selection process cannot be completely isolated.
- Focus more on a smooth transition and not the geographical spread criterion.
- With the EMA bid, Greece is coming back to EU ‘normality’.
What is the comparative advantage of the Greek candidature and what does this bid mean politically for the country?
The political message is double, both for Europe and Greece. We believe that medicine is not just a commodity but a social good. Our policy has ensured that over 1.5 million uninsured as well as the weakest people have access to it. That is why Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was invited as an honoured speaker by the World Health Organisation yesterday (13 September), precisely because [WHO] appreciates the effort we make.
We think that this is not just a national issue but also a message for Europe to better balance its social and economic dimensions. The bid will also send a message that we are back to the ‘European normality’ now that the economy is turning to growth. Last but not least, it will also give the pharmaceutical sector a boost, which is very important. But these relate to the political symbolism.
In practice, we consider that we are competitive with all the criteria set by the European Commission. We ensure with the best possible way a smooth transition. We have a ready building; we have conditions of quality of life that will make most of the EMA’s staff to come to Athens. I am saying so as there is a reaction from some parts of the staff to move to other capitals. And obviously, we have the major comparative advantage of having a very dynamic medical and pharmaceutical sector at the level of research and scientific potential. Also in the business sector, a sector that has resisted the crisis and we also have a very effective National Medicines Agency (EOF).
You recently talked about a possible collaboration with the rest of southern European countries on the EMA relocation. How are the talks going? Was that initiative related to regional cooperation of southern countries in order to jointly negotiate with pharmaceuticals the drugs’ pricing and accessibility?
You are right. As you said, we have taken the initiative to negotiate all the countries jointly with pharmaceuticals to get a better drug pricing. The Greek Ministry of Health and Minister Andreas Xanthos made this effort for greater coordination and regional cooperation with the other southern European countries in the framework of the Euro-Med summit and later.
In this southern alliance, Ireland and Estonia have already joined. So it’s a step towards a better deal with the very strong players.
So it makes sense to claim the EMA relocation to be at the centre of this coordination. I have suggested to the other countries in the south to support each other in the first round. It is very difficult to have an understanding because we are all candidate countries, with the exception of Cyprus.
Many countries have complained about the ‘Eurovision-style’ voting process. Recently, the Dutch health minister said the relocation of the EMA “is not entertainment”.
It is obvious that it is not entertainment and I think that the prerequisite for moving to the vote is that the candidate cities to respond to the criteria of the Commission and I hope that the executive’s evaluation report will give a response to this.
Undoubtedly, the political element of the selection process cannot be completely isolated, and I believe that this multiplicity of votes in each country makes it very difficult to have under the table agreements. Assuming that the Commission will fulfil its task and have an objective evaluation of the nominations, there is a good balance between political and objective evaluation.
Personally, I believe that the countries that do not pass the Commission’s objective criteria will have to withdraw from the race as early as the first round on their own initiative. We are not just talking about the chances of a national success but about Europe’s ability to play a regulatory role in a very important area and for the quality of life as well as financially, the pharmaceutical sector.
Let’s discuss the geographical spread criterion which has triggered reactions among “old” and “new” EU member states. What is Athens’ stance on that?
First, when we talk about geography, we can talk about different things. If we look at the number of European organisations according to the population, we are not among the favoured EU countries. On the other hand, it must be made clear that this is not about establishing a new organisation. In this case, this criterion would be of high importance.
Here we are talking about moving an organisation and the basic criterion should be the smooth transition. The geographic criterion may be also related to where a country is, in the centre, the periphery. I think it’s a secondary issue. What matters is the aviation coverage and interconnectivity.
It’s the first Brexit test. Are you concerned about the EU unity?
I am optimistic. So far we have shown remarkable coherence. We trust the central negotiator. Now is indeed the first test, but I think we will all show the necessary maturity.
In June, EU Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker presented the procedure for relocating the European Bank Authority (EBA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) from the UK after it leaves the EU.
The EMA is an EU regulatory authority which ensures that medicines available to 500 million citizens across Europe are appropriate and safe. Its office is currently in London but will need to be moved outside the UK because of Brexit.
Many suggest that this is the first test for the remaining 27 member states as crucial Brexit talks get underway.