Pharmaceutical policy in the new European Commission will be developed jointly by two Commissioners – one for the single market, industry and enterprises, and the other for health, Commission President-elert Jean-Claude Juncker has announced.

“Responsibility for medicines and pharmaceutical products will stay with the Directorate-General for Health because I agree with you that medicines are not goods like any other,” the new President told the Members of the European Parliament (MEP) this week, formally acknowledging that he had abandoned his plans to move responsibility for drugs and medical technology away from the Directorate-General for Health and Consumers (DG SANCO) and give it back to the D-G for the Single Market, Industry and Enterprise. 

MEPs, along with patient groups, had condemned Mr Juncker’s initial plan, stating that no DG should combine the lead role for medicines policy with the lead role for the promotion of the pharmaceutical industry.

But in the new Commission, relevant policy will be developed jointly by the new health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukatis, and the industry commissioner, Elzbieta Bienkowska, Mr Juncker told Parliament, and he went on to praise the “incredible talents” shown by Ms Bienkowska at her hearing.

Confirmation of the new President’s change of heart has been warmly welcomed by health and consumer advocacy groups across the European Union (EU). A statement signed by 35 public health organisations says his announcement “indicates that the safety and security of Europeans are prioritised in the new Commission.”  They also applaud his declaration, made in response to their concerns, that “as President of the Commission, I will make sure that public health will be at least as important in our policies as internal market considerations.”

In his speech to Parliament, Mr Juncker also said that his Commission “will not only look different but will also work differently. Not as the sum of its parts, but as a team. Not through silo mentalities, clusters and portfolio frontiers, but as a collegiate, political body.”

This pledge has been welcomed by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), which has applauded Mr Juncker’s “strong commitment to overcome silo mentalities.” EFPIA also says it “looks forward to the Directorate-General health’s contribution to a comprehensive strategic agenda by the European Commission for the pharmaceutical industry in Europe,” and urges the Commission to “show strong political commitment towards this strategic agenda.”

In September, the industry group denied that it had lobbied to get responsibility for the industry moved from DG SANCO, which had held this role since 2009.