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Peter O'Donnell is a freelance journalist who specializes in European health affairs and is based in Brussels, Belgium.
As the new European Parliament assembles for the start of its five-year term on July 1, many familiar faces will be missing.
As the new European Parliament assembles for the start of its five-year term on July 1, many familiar faces will be missing—retired, or voted out—including some who had a voice in European Union health policy in the outgoing parliament. The absence of Bulgarian physician Antonyia Parvanova will be particularly noted: a lively and prominent member of the parliament’s health committee, she intervened frequently—and often intelligently—in numerous healthcare debates within and beyond the parliament, but lost her seat in the May elections.
Longstanding stalwart Dagmar Roth-Behrendt of Germany, who among other things was the MEP designated as the principal contact with the European Medicines Agency (EMA), has retired. And Marina Yannakoudakis, a UK MEP with a strong record in health matters, was also defeated in the elections. Others who were vociferous in health-related debates—often with a highly critical approach to the medicines industry—and who are not coming back include Sweden’s Carl Schlyter, France’s Corinne Lepage, Kartika Liotard of the Netherlands, and Alda Sousa of Portugal.
Among those returning, and with a real interest in health issues, are Françoise Grossetête of France, well-known for her strong support for the drug industry, and a key figure in debates on patients' rights in cross-border healthcare; Glenis Willmott of the UK, who acquired a high profile in managing debates on the recent legislation on clinical trials; Linda McAvan, also of the UK, who distinguished herself in discussions of pharmacovigilance; Swede Christofer Fjellner, who laboured long (and ultimately fruitlessly) on the draft rules on medicines information – which was withdrawn in the face of national governments’ hostility; German physician Peter Liese, energetic on all health subjects; Alojz Peterle of Slovenia, who showed a strong commitment to the fight against cancer; and Nessa Childers of Ireland, who defended the socialist line in the last parliament but has been re-elected as an independent.
MEPs with a history of pointing to perceived flaws in the drug industry are back too. Marisa Matias of the Portuguese Greens, who led the debates on the new rules on falsified medicines; Michèle Rivasi, a sharp observer of industry practice; her compatriot Gilles Pargneaux, who wrote the report on serious cross-border threats to health; and Dane Margrete Auken. So too is Romania Monica Macovei who acquired fame for her insistence on rooting out what she saw as conflicts of interest in the management of the EMA.
Next week the parliament will decide who is to sit on—and who is to hold leading roles in—its committees, and the composition of the health committee will be followed with close attention by many in the healthcare sector. This is the forum where much of the detailed work on health policy is discussed and where decisions are often forged—sometimes with constructive results, sometimes not. It will do the vetting of whoever is nominated to take over the health portfolio when the new European Commissioner takes office later this year, and regularly scrutinize the incumbent over the next five years. It will also constantly review the achievements of the EMA and the European Center for Disease Control, including through direct exchanges with the directors of those agencies. And it will—for good or ill—influence the atmosphere in which health matters are discussed in Europe in general and in the European Commission and the 28 EU member states too.
So watch this space.