Cautious welcome for proposed EP health committee

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A leading public health NGO cautiously welcomed plans to establish a dedicated health committee in the European Parliament, calling on the European Commission to make its health commissioner responsible for pharmaceutical policy too.

The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) argued that creating a new health committee could have a positive impact if the intention is to put public health higher on the political agenda. 

“A separate health committee could ensure that public health remains at the core of the committee’s work,” a spokesperson told EURACTIV. 

However, EPHA has some concerns over the possible implications involved in removing health from the remit of the environment committee (ENVI), “as health now enjoys pride of place alongside environmental issues and has some of the most active and involved MEPs working on it”. 

The group said it would welcome the change if a separate health committee could deal with all policies proposed by DG SANCO, as well as other issues that have an impact on public health, such as pharmaceutical and agricultural policy. 

EPHA hit out at what it sees as “flaws” in how pharmaceutical policy is organised within the Commission, urging the EU executive to make DG SANCO responsible for pharmaceutical issues. This would be in line with the priorities of 26 member states, where policy on medicines come under the control of national health ministers (with the exception of Greece, where pharmaceuticals policy is dealt with in the industry department). 

“The pharmaceutical package is of fundamental importance to the health of European citizens, but it barely addresses health at all, focusing instead on marketing and competitiveness. This is not surprising as pharmaceutical policy lies within DG Enterprise, whose role is to promote the competitiveness and functioning of industry in the EU,” said EPHA. 

In November, during a period of intense behind-the-scenes lobbying on the pharmaceutical package, a group of 20 NGOs representing patients, consumers, health professionals and health insurers wrote to Commission President José Manuel Barroso asking for public health to be treated as a higher priority when drafting legislation on medicines. 

They also urged Barroso to consider handing responsibility for all policies that affect public health to the health commissioner. 

Several NGOs have complained that the needs of industry often take priority during Commission discussions on the safety of medicines and pharmaceutical product information. This view is echoed in EPHA’s call for more powers to be given to DG SANCO. 

“EU pharmaceutical policy in general, and the provision of information to patients in particular, should be the responsibility of a health-focused directorate to ensure that this complex and critical industry is regulated with citizens’ needs are addressed, and not put second place to those of the industry,” EPHA stated. 

“Therefore EPHA strongly believes that European pharmaceutical policy should move from DG Enterprise to DG SANCO,” it continued. 

Background

Intense discussions are underway which could lead to a major overhaul of several parliamentary committees in an effort to bring greater efficiency to the European Parliament. A new committee dedicated to health and consumer affairs appears likely to result from the reform (EURACTIV 25/02/09). 

One option under serious consideration is the effective disbandment of the internal market and consumer protection committee (IMCO). The shake-up would see health and consumer affairs dealt with under a single committee, which would cover the work undertaken by DG SANCO (responsible for health and consumer affairs). 

However, it would also have to deal with complex elements of the pharmaceutical package, including directives on information to patients and counterfeit medicines. 

The pharmaceutical package was published in December by DG Enterprise and Industry, but health groups had lobbied for greater input on issues including safety of medicines and the provision of information to patients (EURACTIV 11/12/08). 

Further Reading

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