Belfast Telegraph

Fine Gael MEPs defend votes on pharmaceutical legislation after lobbying row

It emerged in March that Ireland had almost fully committed its 2019 budget for new drugs.

Concerns have been raised about the high cost of medicines (Julien Behal/PA)
Concerns have been raised about the high cost of medicines (Julien Behal/PA)

Fine Gael MEPs have defended their votes in Brussels after it was revealed pharmaceutical groups spend over 15 million euro a year on lobbying.

In recent years the crisis in affordable medicines has spread to Europe, and it emerged in March that Ireland had already almost fully committed its 2019 budget for new drugs.

A report published on Thursday by Corporate Europe Observatory, titled High Prices, Poor Access, claims that large pharmaceutical lobbies are blocking solutions to tackling high-priced medicines, the top 10 of which are spending over 15 million euro per year on lobbying in Brussels.

The report reveals that the main lobby group, European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), sits on eight of the European Commission’s advisory groups, had 112 top-level meetings with the Juncker Commission, and hold 60 access passes to the European Parliament.

The report claims the group is doing “its best to remove or weaken regulatory measures”.

The top 10 firms are spending over 15 million euro per year on lobbying in Brussels, and they're getting what they want. Lynn Boylan

Authors of the report say drug companies promote the use of “new” drugs because they still hold patent protection.

Existing patent laws mean that once a drug is approved by regulators it retains a competition-free environment for up to 20 years.

The report states that large drug manufacturers continue to produce new, more expensive drugs, even if the new product is not an improvement in medical terms.

Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan says the report proves that lobbying is blocking solutions that make medicines more accessible.

“The top 10 firms are spending over 15 million euro per year on lobbying in Brussels, and they’re getting what they want,” she said.

“The right to health care and medical treatment is recognised in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, yet the Commission is ripping that to shreds by allowing it be the puppet of Big Pharma, handing them millions in funding with no conditionality.

“The newly adopted Horizon Europe, the EU’s 100 billion euro research fund, is a hand out to massive Pharma corporations to develop what is profitable to them, rather than developing affordable and necessary medicines.

“In the recent research programme vote, the four Fine Gael MEPs, Deirdre Clune, Mairead McGuinness, Brian Hayes and Sean Kelly, voted to delete the precautionary principle and insert what’s called ‘the innovation principle’ in its place.

“This new principle is an industry-­created tool to undermine key policies and regulations protecting human health, meaning public money will be given to Big Pharma to develop profitable medicines.

“Uncritical europhiles need to wake up to the corporate capture of the EU and come to terms with how infested the institutions are with lobbying power.

“Access to medicines, including affordability, is quite literally a question of life or death and the EU isn’t doing enough to ensure appropriate pricing.”

A Fine Gael spokesman defended The Horizon Europe project and the innovation principle for pharmaceuticals.

“The innovation principle ensures that whenever policy and legislation are developed, the impact on innovation is fully assessed, and the Fine Gael delegation believes this has a role to play in EU Better Regulation approach, alongside the precautionary principle,” he said.

“The GUE (the Sinn Fein-affiliated group in Europe) tabled an amendment, deleting the reference to the innovation principle and replacing it with the precautionary principle.

“The Fine Gael delegation voted against this amendment as it was satisfied that the precautionary principle was included in a stronger way as one of the operational objectives.

“By investing in research and innovation, we are investing in Europe’s future.”

PA

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