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Open Forum Europe needs access to high-quality and affordable medicines

February 28, 2012 9:50 AM

By Christofer Fjellner, Marek Siwiec and Baroness Sarah Ludford (*) | Friday 17 February 2012

The European Parliament is currently considering a very pragmatic issue for European citizens: an agreement with Israel to facilitate the import of high-quality and affordable medicines into the European Union.

The Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA) with Israel would simplify the import of medicines into Europe, and greatly reduce the regulatory burden of certification procedures. This would mean a greater ability to access a broader range of critical generic and branded medicines for EU patients amidst strained national health care budgets across the Union. The provision of high-quality and affordable medicines is a relevant issue in the current economic climate, and ever more so in the future given the rapidly ageing population in Europe. The significance of this trade flow to the well-being of European patients is clearly illustrated by the fact that two-way trade in medicines between the EU and Israel amounted to €1.21 billion between 2008 and 2010.

The welfare of EU citizens is at the heart of the 754 members of the European Parliament, who are directly elected representatives from all 27 member states working together to ensure and protect European values. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the Parliament enjoys extended powers in a number of key policy areas, including international trade, which we care deeply about.

The European viewpoint largely seeks to expand market liberalisation and free trade with our main partners across the world. What is beneficial and sensible for EU citizens and national budgets is also of central importance to MEPs. For this reason, we are pleased to see that the ACAA agreement has regained momentum towards a debate and vote in the Parliament's Committee on International Trade (INTA). The benefits that would accrue for both sides from a ratified agreement, which were clear in May 2010 when the Council initialed the ACAA text, are arguably of increased importance today given the deterioration of public finances and the need to cut government spending across the continent.

We understand that some MEPs are keen to link the approval of ACAA with the conflict in the Middle East. We are wary of linking trade and health care issues with foreign affairs objectives. This is particularly true in the context of Israel as the country is a valued member of the EU neighborhood policy, and ACAA is part of the Council-approved action plan. The fact that Israel is a leader in innovation in health care products and services undoubtedly played a role in selecting pharmaceuticals as a worthy industrial sector to deepen cooperation in.

The European Parliament should adhere to this fact and debate the ACAA agreement for what it is - a purely technical accord with clear benefits for European patients. The EU should take steps to strengthen its relationship with all our neighbours, including Israel, and by association build on our influence in the Middle East peace process. Increased ties lead to increased leverage at the bargaining table, which should prove decisive in the future.

(*) Signed by MEPs Christofer Fjellner (EPP, Sweden), Marek Siwiec (S&D, Poland) and Baroness Sarah Ludford (ALDE, UK)

This article was published in Europolitics on Friday 17th February, 2012