As a qualified heart surgeon Vytenis Andriukaitis has hands on experience of the health issues that confront the European Union. In his role as commissioner for health and food safety he "wants to help member states generate improvements for better health", adding that he remains "committed to defending the principles of promotion, prevention and protection". One of the biggest challenges Andriukaitis foresees is the growing demand for healthcare services resulting from "the growing burden of chronic diseases". "This is why we need a stronger approach to promotion and prevention linked to the causes of chronic diseases," says the Lithuanian official who sees action in this area as an investment in the future.
Another priority Andriukaitis identifies is something he sees as a "cross cutting priority" - anti-microbial resistance (AMR). He believes, "it is an issue which touches upon food and health and the two pillars of my services can work synergistically to achieve important health results." Ensuring the EU is protected against cross border health threats and food related risks also form part of the Lithuanian commissioner's priority list. Furthermore, he stresses that the lessons of the Ebola outbreak must be learnt in order to "improve our structures so that they remain fit for purpose".
"Investment in health is an investment in Europe's human capital and in our future"
The prevention and management of any potential food crisis also falls under Andriukaitis' remit. He notes that while the EU has the most advanced food safety standards in the world, the e-coli crisis and horse meat scandal highlights that Europe "must always remain vigilant". The commissioner identifies reviewing the legislation applicable to the authorisation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the animal welfare debate, the intervention on non-compliant food imports and AMR as among his priorities. Another key focus will be "to define concrete, science-based and applicable criteria for the definition of endocrine disruptors". Andriukaitis wants current pending legislative proposals completed but acknowledges "the need to modernise and simplify existing laws". Animal and plant health, novel foods, zoo-technics and medicated feed are among the areas the commissioner wishes to see proposals completed and he argues, "I am ready to invest my political capital in making sure that all possible obstacles are removed".
The two pillars of Andriukaitis' health and food safety portfolio "have a strong citizen focus, as they are close to the daily concerns of 500 million Europeans". He points to health policy as being "an essential component of Europe’s social model", something that "distinguishes Europe from the rest of the world and contributes to social cohesion and political stability".
Andriukaitis also highlights that Europe's healthcare and food sectors are "a major job creator", saying, "investment in health is an investment in Europe's human capital and in our future." The commissioner adds that, "the health status of the EU population must be our primary consideration, as it is evident that only a healthy population can play an effective economic role." Therefore, he notes, "The protection and strengthening of Europe's human capital is one of my key objectives." On the food sector, he notes that approximately 11 per cent of Europe's workforce are employed in the area "and it remained one of the most resilient areas during the economic crisis", something that proves "it is possible to combine a well-regulated sector and contribute to innovation, growth and jobs" - a "delicate but importance balance".
"Transparency, openness and mutual exchange of information are the key principles on which I intend to build my relationship with the parliament"
On the new commission structure, the former Lithuanian health minister says "the commission as a whole needs to be more than the sum of its parts". He believes that "cooperating across portfolios to produce integrated, well-grounded and well-explained initiatives" will allow for "a better focus and much stronger cooperation among all in the college of commissioners".
As a member of Lithuania's parliament for six successive mandates, Andriukaitis outlines that he is "fully aware of how important it is to have strong cooperation with the democratically elected representatives of the people". This is something he sees as especially important in addressing "Euroscepticism and a mistrust of politics and policies at EU level". He says, "transparency, openness and mutual exchange of information are the key principles on which I intend to build my relationship with the parliament." He also plans on actively participating in "regular and open debates" with relevant parliamentary committees.
Andriukaitis singles out Frédérique Ries MEP and her shadow rapporteurs for the "efficient steering" of an agreement allowing for member states to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs through the parliament in January. He says addressing concerns surrounding GMOs is a high priority and the agreement between parliament and the European council will give "legal security and the final say on GMO cultivation to member states". The food safety commissioner adds that, "I truly believe that the directive to be passed in April will be a positive step in aligning the legislation with citizens' expectations, while respecting the rights of all parties".
Vytenis Andriukaitis is European health and food safety commissioner