In a shock decision, pharmaceutical policy in the new European Commission will no longer be the responsibility of DG Enterprise and Industry but will move to the Health and Consumer Policy directorate, DG Sanco.

Responsibility for the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) will be included in the portfolio of new Health Commissioner-designate John Dalli, currently the Minister for Social Policy in Malta. Mr Dalli will also take control of biotechnology, which moves to DG Sanco from DG Environment.

DG Enterprise and Industry is set to go through significant changes under President Jose Manuel Barroso’s new Commission. Under the new leadership of Antonio Tajani of Italy, its name will change to DG Industry and Entrepreneurship and it is expected to lose out in a number of developments, including the creation of a new Commissioner for Innovation and Research – Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, an Irish cabinet minister from 1979 to 1997 and more recently with the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg - and a Commissioner for Climate Action, for which former Danish Minister of Energy and Climate Connie Hedegaard has been nominated.

The shift of pharma policy to DG Sanco has been welcomed by consumer advocacy groups and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), which have long pointed out that health ministries and departments are responsible for pharmaceuticals in most EU member states.

"We are certain that this governance change puts public interests and the health of Europeans at the centre of vital decisions affecting our health,” said Monika Kosinska, secretary general of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA).

“With the responsibility for pharmaceutical and medical devices policies and for the European Medicines Agency too, the Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner is now better equipped to lead a consistent and coherent approach to public health policy and more specifically to ensure protection of patients and safety of medicines throughout the European Union," she added.

Among other changes, Pres Barroso has nominated Joaquin Almunia of Spain to take over as Competition Commissioner from the Dutch politician Neelie Kroes, whose inquiry into the pharmaceutical industry included the first-ever “dawn raids” by Commission investigators on company offices. Ms Kroes now becomes Commissioner for the Digital Agenda.

Speaking in Malta after his nomination was announced, Mr Dalli said his priorities in his new EU role would be accessibility to health care and the sustainability of the sector. His predecessor at DG Sanco, Androulla Vassilliou of Cyprus, becomes Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multiligualism and Youth.
Mr Almunia, Ms Kroes and Mr Tajani are all named as Commission Vice Presidents.

The new Commission is expected to start work in February and its term of office will run until October 31, 2014. The approval of the European Parliament is necessary before the new Commissioners can take up their posts, and they will appear in individual hearings before parliamentary committees running January 11-19. Following a vote of consent by Parliament, which is expected to take place on January 26, the new Commission will be formally appointed by the European Council.