Pharmaceuticals spend millions to push TTIP while consumer groups spend peanuts

The CEO's report does not name Johnson & Johnson as the lobby champion of the sector. Instead, the logo of the company is placed at this story as the company has been nominated by Forbes the world's biggest pharmaceutical in 2015 (Forbes, June 2015)

CEO’s report does not name Johnson & Johnson as the lobby champion of the sector. Instead, the logo of the company is placed at this story as the company has been nominated by Forbes the world’s biggest pharmaceutical in 2015 (Forbes, June 2015)

While the EU is dramatically exposed to an unprecedented migration crisis, a new report by the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) reveals something that is destined to be largely discussed in the immediate future. The Brussels-based, non-profit research and campaign group, whose aim is to expose any effects of corporate lobbying on EU policy making, last week published a new report on the considerable increase on the Pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying budgets during the last few years.

The CEO’s report does not name Johnson & Johnson as the lobby champion of the sector. Instead, the logo of the company is placed at this story as the company has been nominated by Forbes the world’s biggest pharmaceutical in 2015 (Forbes, June 2015)

A “dramatic” increase

CEO’s report indeed shows how European pharmaceutical trade groups have increased their reported spending on lobbying by 235% over the past three years. The pharmaceutical industry reportedly spends at least 40 million euros annually in this moment, which represents around 15 times more than NGOs, consumer groups and “civil society actors working on public health or access to medicines”, according to the report.

Moreover, the report shows that “Big Pharma” enjoyed a substantial number of meetings with European Commission departments and officials. For example, the report shows that a very influential EU pharmaceutical trade association, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), had over 50 meetings with the Juncker’s Commission during its first four and a half months in office. CEO’s report also underlines that EFPIA, whose lobbying expenditure has gone “from €50,000 in 2010 to more than €5m last year”, plays a “covert and explicit role in shaping the policy agenda”, by allegedly sending lobbyists in a “personal capacity to sit in on the Commission’s expert groups”.

EFPIA’s clear reply

As expected, EFPIA’s reply was no less clear-cut. “EFPIA is committed to transparency with regard to its activities”, the group responded in an official statement. “EFPIA has declared a spend of Euro 5,071,000 in 2014, on activities covered by the Transparency Register. This figure is an increase on the previous year due to the fact that the reporting requirements have changed”. Within the same statement the group alleges that against the huge numbers of the pharmaceutical industry’s business in Europe (707,000 people employed in the old continent, combined exports of around Euro 300 billion, € 30.5 billion on R&D invested annually) an estimated spend on engagement activities of €40 million, would be “by no means excessive”.

Road to trade agreements

The study not only concentrates on the consistent investments of the pharmaceutical trade groups on lobbying over the last few years, but also examines some other key channels in the EU and brings to light some examples of EU law and policies that have been targeted, at least, or even “shaped by the industry”. A magic word here immediately says it all to the reader: TTIP.

“‘Big pharma’ has put major lobby efforts into the ongoing negotiations of the EU-US trade agreement known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)”, the report claims. According to the report’s editor, the pharmaceutical industry in the Old Continent is using TTIP as an opportunity to “entrench longer monopoly periods, higher medicine prices, and more ‘new’ medicines with limited therapeutic value”. “Bilateral trade agreements like TTIP provide the pharma lobby an opportunity to bolster IPR [intellectual property] protections and lengthen the period of market exclusivity for its products” is the heavy statement of CEO within their report.

A long and detailed story

Actually this is not the first time that research and campaign groups like CEO focus on the gigantic EU-US trade agreement. Indeed, a report published less than two months ago by the Brussels-based group with the title “TTIP: a corporate lobbying paradise” brought to light some interesting figures.

CEO reports that European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, during her first six months of mandate, had 121 one-on-one private lobby meetings in which TTIP was discussed along with her Cabinet and the Director General of DG Trade. Moreover, according to CEO’s reporters (which have published online their sources and how they gathered the data for their study), when preparing the mandate for the negotiations on TTIP, (January 2012 to February 2014), the European Commission’s trade department (DG Trade) had “597 behind-closed-door meetings with lobbyists to discuss the negotiations”.

1 in 10

The report says that 528 of those meetings (88%) were with “business lobbyists”, while only 53 (9%) were with public interest groups. “In total, DG Trade met 288 lobby groups in the early phase of the TTIP talks – 250 of them from the private sector”, CEO reporters state. So basically, “for every meeting with a trade union or consumer group, there were 10 with companies and industry federations,” underlines CEO.

A matter of handshakes

All in all, it is well-known how lobbying is a big business in Brussels, and how agreements see the light only through handshakes and mutual interests. Also, it is always very important to keep in mind all of the players’ interests and scopes. CEO’s aim is to “expose the power of corporate lobbying in the EU” and this, sometimes, may sound more like an ideology than a goal.

However, the above numbers, figures and stories are an open window to some disquieting panorama. A call for transparency, when interests are huge as risks for the European citizens are, is important like never before. The fact that the number of European politicians and Members of the European Parliament who have joined campaigners in calling for greater transparency in TTIP negotiations shows that the question is really hot.

EFPIA Director General Richard Bergström, in response to CEO’s report, said: “The CEO report shows that the EU transparency rules are working, albeit not perfectly – otherwise CEO would have nothing to write about”, which may be true. “For me as EFPIA DG, I am happy to see EFPIA working effectively with EU institutions on key healthcare issues that matter to patients”, he added.

Well, this is simply our biggest hope and concern at the same time, whereas many are worried that in this moment it’s simply easier to spot monopoly privileges granted by governments for the big pharmaceutical companies  than patients’ poor access to medicines.

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