The European Parliament
was this week to have considered a practical issue for European
citizens: a trade agreement that would facilitate the import of
high-quality and affordable medicines into Europe. Many might reasonably
think that the Parliament would be eager to ratify an agreement with
clear benefits for European patients; the agreement has, instead, been
politicised and the legislative process stalled for the past two years.
The protocol agreement on Conformity
Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA) with Israel is a
technical trade agreement that would simplify Israeli exports into
Europe. At present, the only products covered by the agreement are
pharmaceuticals. If this ACAA were approved, EU patients would have
access to a broader range of essential generic and branded medicines,
and European pharmaceutical manufacturers would gain access to new
markets. ACAA would, likewise, reduce the regulatory burden of
certification procedures for national competent authorities, and
translate into cost savings for stretched state healthcare budgets.
These savings could be passed down to consumers by pharmaceutical firms,
which would no longer be hampered by unnecessary conformity-assessment
The provision of effective and less costly
medicines is highly relevant in the current economic climate, and will
be even more so in the future as Europe's population continues to age
rapidly. The significance of increased EU-Israeli trade in
pharmaceuticals, which totalled approximately €1.1 billion in 2010, is
thus essential for Europe's better health and well-being. The EU has
adopted a strategy to trade itself out of the financial downturn. To do
so, we must identify opportunities and capitalise on them. The ACAA
agreement is one such occasion. This is a win-win situation too
important to overlook.
The problem is that some members of the
Parliament seemingly do not share these values and are delaying the
ratification of ACAA, and, by association, access to quality medicines
for patients throughout Europe.
What began as a technical trade agreement
negotiated by the European Commission and signed by the Council of
Ministers in May 2010 has been politicised in the Parliament's
committees on international trade (INTA) and foreign affairs (AFET).
This politicisation is directly responsible for the considerable delay
in ratification, a delay that raises serious questions about
transparency and democracy in the Parliament.
AFET's rapporteur on the
issue, Belgian Socialist MEP Véronique De Keyser, has called for the
Parliament to issue an interim report on ACAA, which would in effect
further postpone a decision on the dossier. INTA's rapporteur,
Portuguese Socialist MEP Vital Moreira, has called for the Parliament to
postpone judgement on the text for two years. In two years' time, new
elections to the Parliament will take place. Is the rapporteur
recommending that the current Parliament avoid its responsibilities and
pass these on to newcomers in 2014? That, surely, is not the opinion of
the INTA committee as a whole. As an ex-officio rapporteur, Moreira
should reflect the views of the majority of members of his committee,
not his own political position.
It is regrettable that some MEPs are using
this technical agreement to prevent EU citizens from gaining access to
high-quality and affordable medicines. We believe that members should be
given the opportunity to debate and vote on ACAA, to fulfil the
Parliament's hard-won responsibilities for oversight of European policy.
This should take place without delay. The EU should be taking steps to
strengthen our relationship with all our neighbours, including Israel,
and by association build on our influence in the Middle East peace
process. Stalling the ACAA agreement is not getting us any closer to
Christofer Fjellner is a Swedish centre-right MEP, Marek Siwiec is a Polish centre-left MEP, Sarah Ludford is a British Liberal MEP, and Charles Tannock is a British MEP from the European Conservatives and Reformists group.
To read the article that appeared in the European Voice on April 26, 2012, click here