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Report on Hearings of Commissioner Designate for Health and Food Safety: Dr. Vytenis Andriukaitis

The hearings of the Dr. Vytenis Andrukaitis, Commissioner Designate for Health and Food Safety took place in the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) today the 30 September 2014. MEP questions and the atmosphere of the debate was largely non-confrontational, indicating a likely endorsement for the candidate. It is interesting to note that Dr. Andriukaitis seemed markedly more confident on human health matters, showing both his professional background and his political experience. His answers on what is now the majority of his portfolio, regarding food safety and animal matters, tended to be more often vague.

Here is a synopsis of the most relevant declarations made during the hearing,

Health Inequalities and Investing in Health- it is worth noting that Dr. Andriukaitis sees health as an integral part of a sustainable economic recovery, both in terms of its intrinsic value in enabling a healthy population and dealing with Europe’s demographic challenge, as well as a driver of economic growth and the creation of highly skilled jobs. To this effect, he will work for:

Supporting Member States to invest more in smart reforms, which are inclusive and allow equitable access to services. One of the key phrases that he used was “health for all and all for health”. By this he explained, when replying to questions from MEPs, particularly in regard to the move of several important units to DG Enterprise, that he sees health as a concern for several commissioners, including justice, social affairs and industry. He let it be understood that under the new coordination teams created in the Commission, health at the EU level has a potential to be reflected in more policies than in the previous mandate.

Medical Devices Regulation- Ms. Misread McGuiness (EPP, Ireland) asked what are the commissioner designate’s priorities with regard to medical devices, and whether he thinks these are important. Dr. Andriukaitis pointed out that as a surgeon he believes medical devices are irreplaceable. They are an important source of smart innovation, and can also help support the reform of healthcare systems. He reminded that as a Minister of Health, he was involved in discussions in the Council on the regulation, and as such he considers the legislation as a key priority.

Conflicts of interests/lack of trust in science – Citing the example of decreasing vaccination rates, Dr. Andriukaitis pledged to work to improve transparency, tackle conflicts of interest and combat corruption across the board in European institutions and agencies.

Cross-Border Healthcare Directive & Serious Threats- Mr. Mathias Grote (S&D, Germany), coordinator for his group in ENVI, raised the delays and difficulty in implementing the Cross-Border Healthcare Directive. Dr. Andriukaitis explained that he will not hesitate to initiate infringement procedures where they are appropriate. With regards to the Serious Cross-Border Health Threats Decision, he stressed that the Commission will work to implement it. In addition, he reminded that joint procurement is under way, with several Member States having agreed to share resources and purchase together countermeasures, of which only vaccines were mentioned.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – Following numerous interpellations from MEPs, Dr. Andriukaitis stressed repeatedly that he is strongly against a lowering of standards, and that he will work in this direction. He also emphasized that he supports improved transparency to allow Parliament, and civil society a fair say in the proceedings.  

Healthcare professionals’ brain drain – Dr. Andriukaitis recognized this is a serious problem for Member States with lower economic means, as doctors, nurses and other health specialists are driven to emigrate because of low salaries, career opportunities, and diverging social values. He underlined that he believes the planning of the workforce could help, and pledged to raise this with the commissioner in charge of social policy.  

European Semester - input on health policy – Several MEPs raised the need for DG SANCO to be more active as part of the European Semester recommendations to Member States. Dr. Andriukaitis, after avoiding an answer to several questions in this respect, underlined that advice regarding the reform of health systems needs to be based on a common method of assessment of the systems’ performance. He further mentioned that universal healthcare should not be jeopardized, and that the European Commission needs to work on suggested measures, as a team. This remark can be seen as critical to the current prominence of DG Economic and Financial Affairs in the European Semester exercise.

The ENVI coordinators meeting to decide on the committee’s position was set to take place today the 30 September following the hearing. An endorsement seemed very likely.


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