Hopes High as EU Heads Into Leadership Change

Jun 01, 2014

For European business, the perils of the immediate past are being replaced by the promise of the future, as the financial crisis appears to recede, and the prospect beckons of new opportunities under a new European Parliament and a new European Commission (EC). Last month's European Parliament elections will bring many fresh faces to Brussels, and every lobby group in town is already planning how to win their attention and hopefully their favor. Of even more significance, a new Commission is due to take office in November, replacing the timid and tired ten-year administration of José Manuel Barroso with—it is hoped—a team bursting with renewed dynamism and energy, and with a readiness to listen to well-formed policy pitches.

Push for integration


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It is against this background that the principal drug industry associations in Europe launched a call in mid-May for "an integrated European industrial policy for the pharmaceuticals sector." The industry has achieved its own integration in putting this plea together. It unites—in a rare show of solidarity—both the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) and the European Generic Medicines Association (EGA). The conflicting interests of the research-based and generic companies have often kept them apart, but they have started to work together much more closely in Europe, partly because of the tougher conditions they all face, and partly because shifts in ownership and in corporate strategy have blurred many of the distinctions that were so clear in the past.

So, now they are, as they say themselves, "joining forces." The industry groups launched their appeal at the annual EU Business Summit, taking advantage of its theme this year, "The Business Agenda 2014-2019: Rebuilding a Competitive Agenda." The drug industry associations' particular angle is that Europe's healthcare systems have suffered from economic recession and austerity policies, and this has affected access to healthcare for EU citizens. Their response is to urge promotion of "an integrated life sciences industry for Europe" that will serve the health of society and economic prosperity.

The campaign that EFPIA and EGA are conducting focuses on three priorities. First, the groups want a clear recognition that medicines are essential to improve patient outcomes and equity of access to healthcare across Europe. Then they want a more predictable business environment so as to give the industry incentives to invest and to bring "better and more cost-effective treatments" to patients. And alongside, they want a context that will "make the EU an attractive global hub for pharmaceutical research and manufacturing."

Not so simple

These may all seem, at first glance, to be reasonable, even laudable, objectives, unlikely to run into opposition from anyone. But there is more to the campaign than meets the eye. That first priority of recognizing the importance of medicines in European healthcare is not quite so obvious as it looks. There has been a rising tide of concern in Europe about the role of medicines over recent years.

Part of this has sprung from politics—perhaps, more aptly, from ideology. Distrust of industry in general, and of the healthcare industry in particular, is more evident in European public discourse every day. A long tradition of what started as rather lonely dissent—going back to the days of Andrew Herxheimer and Charles Medawar in the 1980s—has matured into organized opposition, now manifested in the popular acclaim and high public profile that greets the Ben Goldsteins of latter-day Europe. This has been compounded by a loose but increasingly influential anti-science movement that ranges from the advocates of homeopathy to the more muscular international civil society organizations capable of mobilizing thousands of supporters onto the streets with a finely-phrased leaflet on genetically modified crops.