Stuck at the border
European Voice, 26 April 2012
On 24 April, the European Parliament's foreign-policy committee delayed a vote on a trade deal with Israel, extending deliberations that began in May 2010. Here, a cross-party group of MEPs argues for immediate approval, while European critics of Israeli policies argue for the rejection of the agreement until Israel complies with international law.
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 procedures.
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 this objective.
Christofer Fjellner is a Swedish centre-right MEP, Marek Siwiec is a Polish centre-left MEP, Sarah Ludford is a British Liberal MEP, andCharles Tannock is a British MEP from the European Conservatives and Reformists group.
This article was published in European Voice on April 26th 2012