What did Europe ever do for us?

  • Posted on 03.11.2011

What did Europe ever do for us?


John Wilkinson

Former Chief Executive of Eucomed


As the Euro zone crisis threatens to precipitate a much more fundamental questioning of the European dream, it is easy to revert to the eurosceptic homeland of vilifying apparently meaningless rules and regulations that have little real impact on the lives of any of us. The likes of the British ‘save our pint’ campaign trivialises the debate and does little to educate the voters of member states as to the real issues at stake.

I am minded to recall a famous scene from the ‘The Life of Brian’, a comic parody of the seventies, by British comedians and satirists under the name of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The scene depicts a crowd gathering in Palestine in early New Testament times to protest at Roman oppression. One of the throng shouts out ‘What did the Romans do for us anyway?’. This is followed by a dramatic pause, after which one of the crowd calls out, ‘well, roads’ followed by another who says ‘sanitation’ and another ‘baths’ and ‘fresh water’ and on and on. The Romans might be imperial oppressors but they did bring a lot of benefits to the populations of conquered countries.

The same can be said of Europe and ‘What did Europe do for us anyway?’. Well, in the domain of medical technology, I would say ‘a lot’. I am old enough to recall an era when medical technologies were largely unregulated and, as a consequence, there was a high risk to patients. This was followed by countries around Europe setting up local and more or less effective regulatory regimes according to the country in question. Almost all involved degrees of bureaucracy which served to keep public sector employees occupied but may not have added much to either the protection of patients or promotion of innovation. In every country, files would be delivered to respective Ministries of Health and time and money would be consumed whilst unnecessary delays took place before life saving technologies hit their respective markets. At the same time businesses had to employ people in every country in order to transact these exercises so adding substantially to the cost of bringing products to market.

The medical devices regime is a triumph for Europe and member states as it brings consistency and high quality across the whole of the European Union whilst eliminating duplication and unnecessary bureaucracy. Smaller and less well resourced member states are able to benefit from the expertise of the larger countries and, most of all, patients get access to safer and better treatments more rapidly.

The demands placed on regulators are increasing rapidly as a result of greater expectations from citizens and governments combined with ever more sophisticated and complex technologies. This is happening whilst the resources available to authorities are declining as countries reign in public spending. Sharing resources and collaboration at a European level really are the only options if we are to continue to benefit from new and innovative treatments and deliver these safely and cost effectively. This is not a political statement extolling the esoteric values of the European vision but a common sense practical reflection on the benefits of pan-European collaboration. The medical technology sector has benefitted, as have patients, governments and tax payers, so this is a plea not to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’. Collaboration across member states in many sectors and activities makes perfect sense at all levels so let’s celebrate the positives whilst not trying to force greater integration where it does not work for all. Such exercises detract from the very positive impact of legislation that works for citizens, governments and businesses across the whole of Europe and beyond.

– John Wilkinson, Chief Executive, Eucomed

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