In telling the Parliament on Wednesday that the units on medicines and pharmaceutical products will stay with DG Sanco Mr Juncker added “..I agree with you that medicines are not goods like any other”. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
This is good news and thanks to those who worked to achieve it, especially the European Parliament.
The new “DG Enterprise” will play an important role in internal discussions in the Commission on policies on food safety, medicines and medical devices because of its responsibility for industrial policy in these areas. There is nothing inherently wrong in this. I have spent a lot of time opposing the views of DG Enterprise on specific points but at national and EU level it is right to take industrial policy (and the views of industry) into account in overall policy making. What is important is to achieve the right balance, and that would have been impossible if the same DG had been responsible for medicines and for promoting the pharmaceutical industry. In my opinion, that balance was skewed in the past when the two responsibilities were combined – I’m talking about you, Mr Bangemann.
In speaking to the Parliament Mr Juncker went on to say “ The relevant policy will be developed jointly by Vytenis Andriukaitis and by Elżbieta Bieńkowska, who showed her incredible talents in her hearing”. The word “jointly’ may mean, as I hope it does, simply a continuation of the a long standing agreement for close coordination on medicines (and food) policy between the two DGs.
There will, however, be a “gatekeeper’ in the new Commission in the form of the First Vice-President, Mr Timmermans, with responsibility for Better Regulation. There is also a strong political tide in favour of a less “interventionist” Commission. The merits of that can be debated but whatever happens it is still better that medicines and medical devices stay within the Health DG.
By the way, some members of DG Enterprise felt that my blogs were accusing them of favouring the industry over patient safety, but I meant nothing of the sort. Faced with a choice between the safety of a medicine and the demands of a pharmaceutical company I am sure they would all opt for safety. My concern was for achieving the right balance in the overall policy on medicines and health. There are important decisions to be made on such issues as transparency, relations between industry and health care providers, the evidence base for clinical decisions, and TTIP, to name just a few. It is too much to expect that the right balance can be achieved on such issues by giving one DG responsibility for medicines and for promoting the pharmaceutical industry.
The Commission will do better with a strong and well resourced internal voice for health. With the units on medicines and medical devices working alongside its other health units, DG Sanco can be that voice, and I hope it will.END