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2nd Jul 2022

Juncker defends lobby-friendly restructuring of commission services

  • Will business or health come first in the new EU commission? (Photo: Grumpy-Puddin)

New EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has defended his decision to shift the health technology and pharmaceutical policy services back to the more lobby-friendly internal market directorate - a move that has been criticised by MEPs and NGOs.

In the last Barroso commission, the units dealing with medical devices, health technology and cosmetics were part of DG Sanco - the health directorate. Juncker's reorganisation of the commission services has moved these units back to internal market, where they were up until 2005.

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The European Medicines Agency, a London-based EU agency responsible for market authorisation of pharmaceutical products, will now respond to both DG Sanco and DG Markt.

This has caused an outcry in the European Parliament. Its president Martin Schulz on 26 September wrote a letter to Juncker demanding the units be moved back to the health directorate and the medicines agency be under the sole responsibility of DG Sanco.

In a letter to European Parliament chief Martin Schulz, dated 29 September and seen by EUobserver, Juncker justifies the move as part of his strategy for a "deeper and fairer internal market with a strengthened industrial base”.

He also reassures MEPs 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".

Juncker said he decided to establish a new portfolio and a new directorate-general "responsible for the whole legislation governing the internal market of products and services (apart from financial services)".

"Health technology products, cosmetics and medicinal products will be part of this new portfolio which is being entrusted to [Poland's] Ms Elzbieta Bienkowska," Juncker explains.

In another letter, written to NGOs who also protested the move, Juncker suggested that he had to beef up the portfolio in order to convince Poland to send a woman commissioner.

"I have entrusted this portfolio to Ms Elzbieta Bienkowska, for whose appointment I had to struggle during the whole summer in order to enhance the participation of strong, experienced women in my commission, as requested by the European Parliament," he told the civil society groups.

He added that public health and food safety issues will be overseen by Lithuania's former health minister Vytenis Andriukaitis, who is to run two directorates responsible for public health, health systems, health strategy, and health technology assessment.

"In addition, I have transferred the competence for dealing with food waste and biocides to this portfolio," Juncker writes.

Along with MEPs and NGOs dealing with health issues, Belgian health minister Laurette Onkelinx, also described the move as an "incomprehensible step backward".

"The breast implant scandal should remind the European Commission that considering a health product a commodity seriously puts public health at risk. It is time to stop commercialising healthcare,” Onkelinx wrote in a press release, referring to a health crisis in 2013.

She also brought the issue up in an informal meeting of EU health ministers, where nine other countries voiced concerns about Juncker's restructuring.

A lobbyist who works for the pharmaceuticals industry, but who asked not to be identified, told this website that the move will "make our life much easier" because DG Markt is more "pragmatic" about holding meetings with industry chiefs.

"Back when they were in DG Sanco, even setting up a meeting with officials, to explain our views to them, was impossible," the lobbyist said.

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