EU ZMK's Diary

Genval, 6th February 2016. – I am afraid it is not. Right at the beginning, the Juncker Commission prioritised profit to the health of EU citizens, forgot about health when defined its 10 top priorities, weakened pro-health legislation and a weak mandate was given to the health Commissioner.

What is more important: patient safety or profit?
As we can remember, in 2009, responsibility for medicines and medical devices were moved into the hands of the health Commissioner to harmonize pharmaceutical governance within Member States and facilitate emergency preparedness. However, President Juncker decided to move of medicinal products and health technologies to the portfolio of the Commissioner for internal market and industry. Only the strong and united opposition of the European public health civil society in the #Pharma4health campaign made him to – partially – change his mind and move – at least – medicinal products back to the health commissioner, but not the responsibility for health technologies.

Sacrificing our health on the altar of ‘economic growth’?

Unfortunately, this tendency did not change over time. None of the 10 Commission priorities are about health. In addition to that, by establishing the so-called “Better Regulation” agenda, there is less action on public health, and as the public health developments in 2015 proved, even the progressive, pro-health actions were subject to the “less regulation” policy.

Concerning the health Commissioner, he was a new hope for the European public health community. A medical doctor and a passionate public health professional, he was considered as “one of us” and to my knowledge, he was the first Health Commissioner who wanted his job. Unfortunately, he was given a very weak mandate in the Mission Letter signed by the President, and 1 year after being in office, even the health Commissioner admitted in an interview that “The biggest surprise is that I am not so effective.” That is reflected in the first year evalutation of the Juncker Commission by Euractiv which gave the worst report card (‘F’ in the grade A-F) to health policy:

Health and social issues

Grade: F

The biggest clash between the Commission and civil society was probably after Commissioner Andriukaitis indicated that the executive is unlikely to publish an alcohol strategy and delayed a report on how to include alcohol under the EU’s new food labelling rules. This prompted more than 20 NGOs to leave the EU’s Alcohol Health Forum, a stakeholder platform between the Commission, the industry and health campaigners. But the lack of alcohol policies also led the beer and spirits sector to self-regulate its nutrition labels.

As demonstrated below, a strong vision of health is missing from the Commission’s current work. The Commission started its work in the middle of the worst economic crisis the EU witnessed since its creation, therefore it was no surprise that re-launching the European economy was one of its core goals. However, it is less obvious to me, why on earth are convinced some people that pure GDP growth would be the way out of the crisis? Economic growth should remain just a tool, not a final aim. The final aim is to improve well-being of Europeans and no improvement can be achieved without a healthy population.

Is there an alternative solution?

What should be done? It is never too late to do the right thing. What I could imagine as a good start would be to make the Health Commissioner Vice-President of the College and give him the necessary mandate to oversee the work of the Commissioners to ensure that they include health in their work. That would fulfill the legally binding obligation of the Treaties (eg TFEU article 168).

In his answer letter to health NGOs, President Elect Jean-Claude Juncker highlighted that “As President of the Commission, I will make sure that public health will be at least as important in our policies as internal market considerations”

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