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25/09/2016

A bad start for the new Commission

Health & Consumers

A bad start for the new Commission

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The directorate for public health (DG Sanco) took over the lead role for medicines and medical devices, only some years ago. Mr Juncker’s announcement that these units will be moved back to DG Enterprise, is a step backwards, writes Jim Murray.

Jim Murray is a former director of BEUC, the European Consumers Organisation. He blogs on BlogActiv, EurActiv’s blogging platform on EU affairs. 

Some years ago, DG Sanco, the health directorate for public health, took over the lead role for medicines and medical devices from DG Enterprise the industry DG, which was responsible for promoting industry, including the pharmaceutical industry. The change was a good one, enabling a clearer focus within the Commission on medicines as an essential element of health policy.

Now in his line-up for the new Commission, Mr Juncker has announced that the units dealing with medicines, medical devices, and health technology will be moved back to DG Enterprise!

In the new Commission, DG Enterprise will be responsible for promoting the European pharmaceutical industry and for Commission policy on medicines and medical devices. Other DGs will have a say, of course, but DG Enterprise will take the lead and will be the main interlocutor with the industry on medicines and medical devices. This is a good day for the pharmaceutical industry, but a bad day for public health. The industry has great influence across a wide range of government policies but typically rather more influence on industry departments – and this is not to imply any impropriety on the part of DG Enterprise.

One DG should not combine the lead role for medicines policy with the lead role for the promotion of the pharmaceutical industry. This is not the way to achieve clarity in public health policy. The difficult task of balancing the interests of public health and the (legitimate) interests of the pharmaceutical industry should not take place within the one DG (and should not be well hidden from public scrutiny) .

There is also the difficulty of ensuring the right mix of skills within the one unit or DG – combining specialists on public health with expertise on industrial promotion.

This was how the change was announced:

Units SANCO B2 (Health Technology and Cosmetics), SANCO D5 (Medicinal Products – Authorisations, European Medicines Agency) and SANCO D6 (Medical Products – Quality, Safety and Efficacy) move from DG Health and Consumers (SANCO) to DG ENTR.

You can see the full announcement here.

The Commissioner–designate for Health and Food Safety is Vytenis Andriukaitis a former Minister for Health in Lithuania – and a surgeon, but he will not have responsibility for medicines, medical devices or health technology. That will be the task of El?bieta Bie?kowska, a former Deputy Prime Minister of Poland, who is the Commissioner–designate for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, to give her full title.

The new Commission-designate must be approved by the European Parliament and I hope there will be strong voices there who think that medicines should be seen first and foremost as a matter of public health policy.

There is still time for the Commission to re-think this appalling decision.

Further Reading