Responsibility for European Union (EU) pharmaceutical industry policy should be taken away from the European Commission's Industry/Enterprise Directorate General and given to the Health Directorate, Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has been told.

In a letter to Mr Barroso and other EU leaders, consumer groups and health care activists have urged them to use “this year of change for the EU institutions” to “make health the main driver for pharmaceutical policy at EU level by giving the lead role in medicines to a health-focused directorate” within the Commission.

“Pharmaceutical policy is an integral part of public health policy-making,” says the letter, signed by the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), which has 86 member organisations, the European Consumers Organisation (BEUC) with 42 member groups and the Association International de la Mutualite (AIM). “Medicines form a major part of treatment measures and are therefore of key importance in safeguarding health. The access to safe, effective and high-quality medicines is a human right. Therefore, pharmaceutical policy-making should put health and human rights at its core,” they add.

This year, there will be a new European Parliament, Commission and, possibly, a new Treaty, and these reorganizations will provide the opportunity to make a change in the EU’s governance of pharmaceutical policy, the organisations have told the Commission officials.

Putting the needs of EU citizens first should be the Commission’s number one priority, and ensuring “a high level of human health protection” can only be achieved if public health concerns, the protection of patients and the safety of medicines are the responsibility of DG SANCO - the Commission’s health and consumer department, they add.

Moreover, the current EU-level situation is out of alignment with the member states, in which Ministers of Health are responsible for managing pharmaceutical policy. “Now is the time for Europe to align its policy framework with those of its member states and their citizens,” say the signatories.

The EPHA notes that the process defining the composition of the new Commission will be a long and difficult one, with negotiations between member states about the allocation of Commissioners’ posts having started informally but with discussions expected to last until late in the third quarter of the year. Therefore, it adds: “we need to maintain a campaign to keep the issue of a transfer of competence on pharmaceuticals high on the political agenda.”

The independent EuroActiv website quotes the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) as responding to the campaign by pointing out that the pharmaceutical industry “is not simply a manufacturer of medicines. Via its investment and research efforts, it is a dynamic sector of the European innovation economy. Therefore it seems logical that we continue to work with DG Enterprise to ensure that what we do benefits Europe as a whole, given its pivotal role in driving innovation," said an EFPIA spokesman.