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Entrenched bureaucracy


Brian Edwards CBE
Emeritus Professor
Healthcare Development,
University of Sheffield, UK
Former President
HOPE (European Hospital and Healthcare Federation),
Brussels, Belgium
The EU needs an overhaul and a restatement of its purpose and priorities, and new and inspired leaders who emerge from the economic crisis to deal with the deeply entrenched bureaucracy are needed.
Cyprus has now taken over the Presidency of the EU with an agenda that is dominated by the financial crisis. However, behind the headlines, work continues on a broader agenda. In the field of Health, the Cyprus Presidency will continue to collect evidence that demonstrates the importance of prevention and health promotion in the early years of life and their link to healthy ageing. Work will progress on improving the EU responses to serious cross-border threats to health, patient safety, pharmacovigilance and organ donation.
Nothing new here, as the EU bureaucracy rolls on with an established agenda while it waits to see what the future holds – it could be a much more centralised EU, with a more powerful bureaucracy, or it could be a pale shadow drifting into a terminal decline.
In the European Parliament, arguments continue about next year’s budget. Giovanni La Via (Italy) has talked publically about chaos in the Council as Members argue about cuts and Alain Lamassoure (France), the Chair of the Budget committee, claims that the inconsistency of the Council and the irresponsible behaviour of some of its Members undermines its credibility.
As the politicians argue, the rest of the Brussels machine keeps going. The European Ombudsman has called for more transparency concerning medicines for children. Under the Paediatric Registration Rules (2006), the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is required to demand that pharmaceutical companies conduct tests to determine whether and how their medicines can be used to treat children. Two companies have complained to the Ombudsman that, while the EMA had enforced the requirement on them, it had exempted other companies. The EMA has argued that because of the limited number of children suffering from heart failure, only one medicine could be tested effectively. The medicine manufactured by the complaining companies had been selected because theirs (candesartan) was the most promising.
The Ombudsman decided that, while the EMA was correct, its decision-making processes needed to be made more transparent – clearly a sop to the complainants, who must have invested a lot of money in pursuing their complaint.(1)
This is what complex bureaucracies do as they battle over process and detail – and is how they spend taxpayers’ money.
The European Court of Justice continues to invest a sizeable portion of its resources to hearing cases, raised by individual citizens, that have already be settled once at a national level, much to the irritation of many governments and of the UK government in particular. Its founding brief was to act as the final defender of EU law – a sort of constitutional court but, like other bureaucracies, it has stretched its role over time. It’s what bureaucracies do.
In countries as diverse as Greece, Holland, Ireland and the UK, the EU dream is increasingly tarnished and continued membership has returned to the political agenda. Minority parties with an anti-EU platform appear to be growing in all these countries.
The EU needs a radical overhaul and a restatement of its purpose and priorities. In recent years, it has lost its way. It is important to the safety and economic vitality of European society. Let us hope that new and inspired leaders will emerge from the trauma of the economic crisis and deal with the deeply entrenched bureaucracy.
  1. European Ombudsman. Press release no 10/2012.

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