Juncker seen making U-turn on medicines policy

Africa wants to start producing its own medicine to fight counterfeit medicine. [Walweed Alzuhair/Flickr]

Jean-Claude Juncker has ceded to pressure from MEPs and abandoned his plan to return control of medicines and pharmaceutical products to the Industry Commissioner. This responsibility will instead remain in the hands of the Health Commissioner, EURACTIV France reports

In the face of pressure from politicians and NGOs, Jean-Claude Junker appears to have discarded the idea of bringing the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and policy related to medicinal products back under the control of the Directorate General for Enterprise and Industry (DG ENTR).

Responsibility for medicinal products was assigned to the Directorate General for Health and Consumers by the Barroso Commission in 2009.

With Jean-Claude Juncker at the helm, however, it is the future Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, El?bieta Bie?kowska, who has found medicinal products in her portfolio, with instructions to “maintain [Europe’s] global leadership in strategic sectors” such as pharmaceutical industries.

>> Read: Pharma industry denies it lobbied for medicines to move to DG Enterprise

Juncker bows to Parliament

Using their new-found leverage from the Commissioner hearings, MEPs have demanded concessions from the future President, agreeing to accept the College of Commissioners in return for the redistribution of responsibilities between the portfolios.

On 8 October, Gianni Pittella, the President of the S&D group, announced in a statement that the Parliament had obtained “a new shared competence for medicines and medical devices between the directorates for health and consumer affairs (DG SANCO), and enterprise and industry (DG Enterprise)”.

Emmanuel Foulon, spokesperson for S&D MEP Marc Tarabella, said “we would like to think that the promise will be kept”, but the Socialist group will remain cautious until the European Commission makes an official statement on the matter.

Monique Goyens, the Director General of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUCexpressed her optimism following this announcement. “If confirmed, it means our efforts have borne fruit. Lawmaking, when it comes to pharma issues in Europe, must be put in the right hands. After all, consumers’ health is a right, not a commodity,” she said.

Ominous signs

Jean-Claude Juncker’s plan brought forth reactions from a wide range of political personalities. The Socialist group regard it as an “ominous sign”, saying: “The risk is that legislative dossiers will be regarded from an economic and industrial point of view, before potential health issues are considered,” Foulon explained.

For her part, Goyens believes that “moving oversight of drugs and medical devices to Industry departments would convey the message that the Commission puts profits before patients”.

Marc Tarabella sad in a statement that “we found it inconceivable that the Commission should combine patients with customers and drugs with simple commodities”. He added that he believed this decision must have been “dictated by industrial and economic interests to the detriment of European citizens and public health”.

The parliamentary group of the Greens also weighed in on the argument, with MEP Michèle Rivasi announcing her commitment to “preventing medical policy becoming a commercial, rather than a health issue,” and to stop powerful industrial lobbies leading the debate.

Influential lobbies under fire

“Lobbying by the pharmaceuticals industry has not borne fruit thanks to the parliamentary response, but also thanks to effective campaigning from patients’ associations,” Michèle Rivasi said.

The level of influence exerted by lobby groups on decision makers is a current topic of concern in the European Parliament. Pharmaceutical companies go to great lengths to protect their interests, organising advertising campaigns, sponsoring events and meeting law-makers to try to influence their decisions.

>> Read: Popular Timmermans signals mandatory register of lobbyists

During the second mandate of José Manuel Barroso, responsibility for medicines and medical devices was taken from DG Enterprise and Industry (ENTR) and given to DG Health and Consumers (SANCO).

Before this change, DG ENTR was responsible for promoting and supporting all industrial sectors, including the pharmaceutical industry. The aim of this decision was to make health into a central pillar of European policy by giving it a special position within the Commission.

Jean-Claude Juncker planned to bring pharmaceutical products back into the fold of DG ENTR in the next Commission.

1 November 2014: provisional date for the new Commission to take up its duties

Subscribe to our newsletters