The European elections recently saw a fresh influx of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), and we now know who will comprise the new European Commission (EC) under Jean-Claude Juncker of the European People’s Party (EPP). We know it’s early, but are there any indications as to how this new collection of (mostly) men in suits may affect natural healthcare over its 5-year term?
Who is the Juncker Commission?
The European Parliamentary committees are currently vetting EC President-elect Juncker’s 27-strong Commission in a process that is due to end on 7th October. So far, we know that the makeup of the new EC reflects the political ascendancy of Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and that Juncker likes to allocate political responsibilities to those team members apparently least suitable for the job. But are there any clues as to the EC’s intentions as regards natural healthcare and related issues?
We’ve found clues in two places: Juncker’s Political Guidelines for his 5-year Presidency, and the Mission Letters of his 27 Commissioners. We’ve waded through these (so that you don’t have to) and this is what we’ve been able to glean so far:
- The Juncker Commission will have an “Agenda for Jobs, Growth, Fairness and Democratic Change,” and focus on 10 policy areas. One specific policy item is “A Reasonable and Balanced Free Trade Agreement with the US”, thereby cementing the extremely worrying Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) at the forefront of EC policy. Juncker’s belief that “We [the EU and US] can go a significant step further in recognising each other’s product standards or working towards transatlantic standards” confirms the ongoing regulatory convergence between the two blocs. Forgive us a little cynicism at his statement that “The safety of the food we eat and the protection of Europeans’ personal data will be non-negotiable for me as Commission President”!
- Juncker also states: “I will make sure that the procedural rules governing the various authorisations for GMOs are reviewed”
- Vytenis P. Andriukaitis will be Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, heading up DG SANCO in place of Tonio Borg. As such, he’s an important man to watch, and we notice two particularly intriguing items in his Mission Letter. First, “Within the first six months of the mandate, reviewing the existing decision-making process applied to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), in line with the Political Guidelines.” Secondly, two areas of DG SANCO’s responsibility will be shifted to the Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry, overseen by El?bieta Bie?kowska: the European Medicines Agency that oversees drug licensing, and health technology/cosmetics. This pushes pharma products back to the Directorate from which they came prior to 2009, and once again separates responsibilities of pharmaceuticals and foods under different Directorate-Generals. Unsurprisingly, it’s already proving controversial in some quarters. But don’t hold your breath: this kind of portfolio shuffling rarely brings about radical reform of over-sized, corrupted bureaucracies such as those within the EC. Maintaining the underlying status quo is much more the order of the day
- And then there are some noises about the EC’s infamous red tape. Andriukaitis’ Mission Letter indicated that “the priority should be on modernising or simplifying the existing legislation, in line with our better regulation principles”
- Andriukaitis has already faced questioning on natural health by MEPs on the ENVI (environment) committee, and on 30th September he clarified: “On the recognition of alternative and complementary medicines, it is within the competence of Member States. They are making steps forward, he said, mentioning Lithuania working on the recognition of alternative medicines and issues of funding and reliability. There are steps taken and they can exchange best practices and try to regulate these issues.” Of course, this answer completely side-steps the fact that the best ‘medicines’ are not medicines, but rather foods, either in their natural, unprocessed or minimally processed forms, or in concentrated forms, as food supplements
- From the same session, on GMOs: “It is obvious that if one country authorises farmers to use GMO crops and the border country does not, the seeds can cross the border and might have an impact. This is a very complex issue and must involve multiple stakeholders. Discussions must focus on the issue of how to protect against cross border contamination. Cooperation between Member States must happen. He could not make specific promises on the measures and whether they should be mandatory or not, but will discuss this issue with them. The position of Member States must be respected and neighbouring countries must find a solution as far as these specific measures are concerned”
- Günther Oettinger will be Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, and it looks like he will oversee a dramatic expansion in the use of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) for communication purposes: “We will need to break down national silos in…the management of radio waves”. From a free speech standpoint, the announcement that Oettinger will be “working with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President to develop the relationship with strategic partners in order to build a global governance architecture for the Internet” does not bode well
- As Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström will be “working towards a reasonable and balanced [TTIP] with the [USA]”. The Mission Letter urges “enhance[d] transparency towards citizens and the European Parliament during all steps of the negotiations,” something that has been notable by its absence thus far
- Ms Malmström’s brief also includes bad news for Africa, and especially South Africa, which is facing destruction of its natural products industry thanks to EU meddling: she is instructed to work closely with colleagues to “strengthen the EU’s strategic partnership with Africa.”
Further clues from the Italian Presidency
Just to make things more complicated, each EU Member State holds the Presidency of the EU Council for a 6-month period, on a rotating basis. The current incumbent is Italy, and the programme for the ‘trio’, i.e. Italy and next two countries to take over the Presidency, contains some interesting tidbits. So, during the next 15 months, we can expect “special attention…to the promotion of healthy life style, focusing on encouraging physical activity and healthy nutrition” – whatever that may mean. Less ambiguously, “The three Presidencies will focus the work on the adoption of the new Regulation on Novel Foods submitted by the Commission in December 2013…Special emphasis will be placed on examining the Commission proposal for a review of the Regulation on organic farming”.
Unfortunately, on such issues of vital importance to natural healthcare in the EU as maximum and minimum permitted levels (MPLs) of vitamins and minerals in food supplements, recommencement of the assessment of health claims for botanicals and clarification of the food/medicine borderline, there are few clues as to exactly how the Commission will proceed, but proceed it will.
The view from elsewhere
If we include the views of others with a beady eye on the Commission, there is reason to believe that the new EC will be more beholden to corporate interests than ever before. Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), for example, has produced several infographics on the corporate backgrounds of several new Commissioners – although the key Commissioners noted above are, so far, absent. The ‘Green 10’ group of environmental NGOs has raised concerns with the new EC’s commitment to environmental matters.
It will certainly be interesting to see whether Juncker continues the slavishly pro-GMO position of his predecessor, and whether he heeds calls to abolish the controversial position of Chief Scientific Advisor, currently held by Professor Anne ‘GMO lover’ Glover.
After years of financial and political turmoil within the EU, it appears from its public pronouncements to date that the EC wishes to concentrate on the ‘big issues’, like jobs and political and financial union. It will be up to all of us to ensure that our new and returning MEPs do their best to hold the new Commission to account on natural-health related matters over the next 5 years.
Call to action
- Do you know who your current MEP(s) are? The MEP search engine can be found here and the full list of can be found here
- Please write to your MEP(s) and remind those in your constituency of your concerns as regards natural healthcare-related legislation? It will help to keep the issues in their minds as the deluge of work brought by a new Parliamentary term begins.