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16th Feb 2019

Polish EU commissioner: 'I'm lobbyist-proof'

  • Bienkowska took a sharp approach in the hearing (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Poland’s next commissioner has defended EU plans to be more business-friendly on healthcare.

Elzbieta Bienkowska, who is to take over the single market portfolio, will, in a restructuring, also take charge of healthcare technology and pharmaceuticals as well as co-running the European Medicines Agency, which authorises new drugs.

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The reform has come under fire from NGOs and the European Parliament, who say it will open the door to industry lobbying.

But Bienkowska defended the move in her hearing with MEPs on Thursday (2 October), saying: “Putting it [pharmaceuticals] together with other branches of industry is justified - it’s an industry where Europe is a global leader and which is Europe’s third largest exporter”.

She also said the previous commission was right not to regulate on breast implants, despite a recent scandal involving French producers.

Bienkowska promised to put patients’ interests before big business, however: “Make no mistake: Health and safety come first”.

She also indicated she will be tough on lobbyists, adding: “All my professional experience shows that I am lobbyist-proof. I'm absolutely lobbyist-proof”.

The 50-year old, from Katowice in Poland’s industrial heartland, was in charge of Polish infrastructure and EU regional fund spending, worth tens of billions of euros, in her previous role.

She described herself as a self-made woman, noting that she started as a single mother on welfare before climbing the rungs of the Polish administration.

“I started from a very low position … and everything which I achieved, I achieved by my own hard work”.

She said her priorities will be full implementation of EU laws on labour mobility - the “services directive” and mutual recognition of professional qualifications.

She also said she wants to protect Europe’s industrial base, to make public procurement more competitive, and to help small business by cutting red tape.

But when put on the spot by a British deputy, she could not name any one EU law she aims to scrap.

“I will start working on this in the first few weeks if I'm approved … then I can choose more than two, maybe 10, maybe more than a dozen”, she said.

With Poland known for its liberal economic policy and its big coal sector, Bienkowska also faced tricky questions from left-wing and green deputies.

She said: “I’m convinced that Europe can remain competitive without compromising on the quality of its goods or its quality of life, its quality of social welfare”.

She noted the EU has no mandate to make member states change their energy mix.

She said the mix must conform with EU climate change targets, but she betrayed her colours by adding that the targets are “sometimes exaggerated”.

Bienkowska took a sharp approach in the hearing, squeezing extra speaking time from the chairman, and confronting MEPs who gave her a hard time.

She corrected one deputy who criticised her for being unelected by noting that she was elected to the Polish senate.

She told another MEP who called her a bureaucrat that stereotypes of officials from “films and old stories” are out of date.

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