Friday, 28 November 2008

Spotlight on Europe: Activities of the EU 1

The rest of Europe has a very large influence on the UK:

"3.5 million jobs in the UK are linked, directly and indirectly, to the export of goods and services to the EU. The estimated employment gains from the single market amount to 1.4% of total employment in the EU in 2006 – equivalent to 2.75 million jobs.

57% of total British trade is with the EU. British companies exported approximately £150 billion worth of goods to the EU27 in 2006 – 62% of total exports, and a rise of 24% compared to 2005.

With more than 490 million citizens, the EU is the largest multi-lateral trading bloc in the world, accounting for 20% of world trade.
Economic analysts estimate that the recently agreed Services Directive could be worth approximately £5 billion annually to the UK economy, and could deliver around 600,000 new jobs.

British Nationals made 53 million visits to the rest of Europe in 2006 – a 50% rise since 1998. 5% - that’s 2.2 million – British Nationals now own property overseas. 4% are elsewhere in Europe.

Full liberalisation of the ‘network’ industries in the EU (eg telecommunications, air travel) could increase prosperity by a further 1.3-1.7% of GDP – up to €95 billion – and increase employment by between 140,000 and 360,000 jobs."

However it is not always clear what specific bodies of the EU do. To the end of learning more about Europe and our role in modern Europe I intend to commence a series of quasi-regular posts detailing the make-up and activities of the EU. Hopefully it will illuminate a lot of the good work that the EU does, and dis-spell some of the overblown euro-sceptic propaganda published by the Daily Mail et al.

This series will start with a couple of articles from the BBC:

Drug firms 'block cheap medicine'

The European Commision has accused pharmaceutical companies of deliberately delaying the entry of generic drugs into the market costing European health care providers “$3.9bn (£2.5bn) in savings between 2000 and 2007”.

The Commission said that innovators filed multiple applications to stop generic drugs getting to market - in one case, there were 1,300 patents for a single drug.

The report found that owners of original drugs often intervened in national approval procedures for generic medicines.

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) refutes these claims and argues that greater competition between generic drug manufacturers would precipitate a drop in the price of drugs:

The EFPIA - which said the Commission's report missed the opportunity to tackle the real issues facing the industry - called for a more competitive market for generic drugs, pointing out that Europeans pay more for generic drugs than US citizens.

In response to claims that the delayed or blocked sale of generic drugs was pushing up healthcare costs, the EFPIA said: "A single member state, the Netherlands, achieved greater savings - up to 400m euros - in one year, on only 33 medicines, simply by promoting greater price competition between generics."

They make an interesting point there, but I wonder exactly how competition is helped by the pressing of multiple lawsuits and the application of hundreds of redundant patents:

There were nearly 700 cases of reported patent litigation and more than 200 settlements between brand name drug companies and generic companies.

I don’t buy into the demonization of pharmaceutical companies. Whilst I agree that like the majority of companies they are interested mostly in profit, I also recognise the vital role they play in society by their production of medicines and other vital chemical products. A balance must be struck between providing cheap medication whilst also encouraging drug development by allowing the developers to benefit from their hard work and innovation. However in this case it seems that the pharmaceutical companies have used their financial muscle to inhibit innovation and quite rightly they have been criticised for it.

EU ready to accept 10,000 Iraqis

Also from the BBC comes the news that more Iraqi refugees are to be allowed to settle in the EU. I welcome this news as, although a lot of Iraq’s problems are due to sectarianism, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the fall out caused by the insurgence has caused a lot of displacement of people, and since several EU members took part in that invasion I feel we have to take responsibility for the consequences. Particularly when it comes to the innocent victims of conflict.

The European Union says it is ready to accept up to 10,000 Iraqi refugees, many of whom are living in extreme hardship in Jordan and Syria.

Priority will be given to those with medical needs, torture victims, single mothers and religious minorities.

Some countries are taking substantial numbers in:

Germany said it would take in about 2,500 of the refugees.

Sweden says it received about 18,000 Iraqi asylum seekers in 2007 - more than half the total that entered the EU last year.

Unfortunately the UK isn’t accepting anywhere near as many as we really should given our central role in the Iraq war:

A UK Home Office spokesperson said the UK had "already shown its clear determination to support Iraqi refugees through the Gateway Programme, with over 200 people resettled in the UK since April and more arriving in the coming months".

The number of displaced Iraqis is estimated by the UNHCR to be in the region of 4,000,000. This number dwarfs the mere 200 who have been given refuge in the UK in the past 7 months. We should be doing more to see out our responsibilities. We didn't cause all of Iraq's problems but our intervention in the country militarily means we must share the burden of finding solutions.

What do you think of these two articles?
How do you feel about the EU?
What would you like to see change in the relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe? For example, should we adopt the Euro?

Please feel to make any other comments. Thank you.

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