Guest blog by Reflector, Pharm Exec Europe’s Brussels correspondent.
Denmark is still on the fringes of some European Union policies. Notably, it has not yet embraced the euro as a currency, and it keeps its distance from the common defence policy. But in one respect, its pharmaceutical industry has just shown that it is well abreast — and even ahead — of EU developments.
As from the start of this year, the members of its national drug industry association, LIF, have committed themselves to a new code of practice on lobbying. The code sets ethical standards for member companies’ dialogue and negotiation with authorities and politicians.
This is different from the codes in most European drug industry associations on product advertising and promotion, or on relations with patient organizations. Here we see the Danish industry responding to a more generalized European concern: that big business has too much influence over politicians. It is a theme that has repeatedly erupted in Brussels, disturbing relations between industry and the political class. And the drug industry, along with other high-tech sectors such as plant biotechnology, car makers and nanotechnology, is frequently on the receiving end of accusations of indecent behaviour and excessive arm twisting.
The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation, a coalition of civil society groups, trade unions, academics and public affairs firms, says it is “concerned with the increasing influence exerted by corporate lobbyists on the political agenda in Europe, the resulting loss of democracy in EU decision-making and the postponement, weakening, or blockage even, of urgently needed progress on social, environmental and consumer-protection reforms.”
Under increasing pressure for greater transparency, the EU has moved over recent years towards some form of governance in this sensitive area. Its own officials are now subject to rules about accepting gifts or other favours, and both the European Commission and European Parliament have established their own registers of lobbyists, with some element of commitment to observe minimum values of fair play.
But so far the drug industry, at European level, has not taken any particular initiative.
The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations has a code of practice on relationships between the pharmaceutical industry and patient organizations, and a code governing the promotion of prescription-only medicines to (and interactions with) healthcare professionals. But nothing about lobbying.
This is what makes the Danish initiative interesting. LIF members have signed up to a detailed code that requires disclosure through corporate websites of companies’ use of external consultants, insists that information supplied to decision makers is updated and complete and must not contain false or misleading information, and prohibits any form of financial support, sponsorship, payment or gifts to civil servants or politicians, including to political parties or to electoral funds.
As LIF says, it is important to raise the industry’s profile in the outside world, and make clear that the industry’s lobbying activities are conducted in an open, honest, fair and credible manner. Being able to demonstrate that the industry’s dialogue with the political/administrative level is based on independence and is fully transparent will help to enhance the industry image, it remarks. It does not go on to make the related point that failure to do so is likely, in an increasingly transparency-conscious age, to land the industry with a lot more trouble.