European Commission vice-president Guenter Verheugen has defended the Commission’s proposals for tackling the danger to consumers of counterfeit drugs, after a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) condemned the plans for doing too little to curb Internet sales.

At a hearing of the Parliament’s committee on environment, public health and food safety (ENVI), held this week to discuss the package of proposed pharmaceutical legislation unveiled by the Commission in December, Cypriot MEP Adamos Adamou described the Internet as a “Trojan horse” in the pharmaceutical supply chain which the Commission has left to Parliament to tackle. Mr Adamou who, as rapporteur, is responsible for progressing the package’s proposed directive on counterfeit medicines through Parliament, told the committee that the document is currently flawed and that he has drafted amendments to widen its reach to cover over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and to harmonise safety features on product packaging.

Counterfeit medicines are “a form of terrorism against human health” and consumers currently have no guarantee that the products they are buying are safe, he said.

Responding to Mr Adamou’s criticisms, Commissioner Verheugen told the committee that Internet pharmacies are already regulated and that it is up to the member states to enforce existing laws – if they did so, new legislation would not be needed. Many Internet pharmacies are governed by the same regulations as High Street pharmacies, and if some are believed to be operating as a “front,” then it is for the member states to effect monitoring controls, said Commissioner Verheugen, who is also Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, heading up the directorate-general which has responsibility for the pharmaceutical industry.

Ahead of the ENVI committee hearing, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) urged Parliament to make the pharmaceutical package a priority. “It is the responsibility of EU decision-makers to ensure safety for its citizens; this exchange of views provide the platform for the European Parliament to demonstrate their commitment to this duty of care,” said EFPIA director-general Brian Ager.

He described the meeting - which is likely to have been of the few remaining occasions for discussions before the election of a new Parliament in June - as “pivotal,” and hoped Commissioner Verheugen’s appearance would help speed the process. “We have already experienced delays in getting these measures out; this is the opportunity to re-energize the process and give it the momentum it deserves,” he said.

The proposals have to be discussed by both Parliament and the Council of Ministers as part of the co-decision procedure before the proposal can be translated into law. The next stage is expected to be a vote by the ENVI committee in October, followed by a vote at the Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg in December. Mr Adamou, who is a member of the Progressive Party of Working People, was not optimistic that his amendments to the counterfeit medicines directive would be passed during the Parliament’s current term.

- The proposed pharmaceutical package adopted by the Commission on December 10 includes a Communication on the future of the pharmaceutical sector and three separate legislative proposals aimed at: modernizing pharmacovigilance to improve the safety of medicines; improving patient safety by reducing the infiltration of counterfeit medicines into the supply chain; and improving patient access to health and medicines information.