Experienced doctor and politician given EU health brief

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 15 September 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5652
  1. Rory Watson
  1. 1Brussels

Vytenis Andriukaitis, a leading Lithuanian politician, has been nominated to take charge of the European Commission’s public health portfolio for the next five years. The 63 year old has a wealth of practical and political experience both as a medical practitioner and former health minister.

He has a degree in medicine, specialising in surgery (he worked as a cardiac surgeon between 1975 and 1993), and until recently had been Lithuania’s health minister since 2012. He had a prominent role as chairman of meetings of the European Union’s 28 health ministers in the second half of last year when Lithuania held the six month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Andriukaitis’s commitment, energy, and knowledge of the briefs in that period were widely credited for leading to EU legislation on clinical trials and tobacco advertising. The new clinical trial legislation provides greater transparency of trials through the use of a publicly accessible database, whereas the tobacco controls impose new rules on the manufacture, production, and presentation of tobacco products to deter young people from smoking.

Speaking as Lithuanian health minister in support of the draft legislation in a European Parliament debate last October, Andriukaitis told members of the parliament that two of his brothers had died from tobacco related diseases. “I cannot forget their suffering. Public health interests should prevail over the narrow interests of tobacco companies,” he said.1

Having helped to introduce these two major pieces of legislation, Andriukaitis is expected to take a keen interest in ensuring that the measures they contain are implemented in practice. He will soon have an opportunity to present his public health priorities for the next five years when he faces public questioning from members of the European Parliament over his suitability for his new role. If successful, he will take up office on 1 November.

He will find himself amid a turf war after responsibility for medicines and medical devices, which his predecessor as health commissioner had overseen for five years, was abruptly removed and transferred to the commission’s industry department—a move widely criticised by public health campaigners.2

During his tenure as health minister of Lithuania, he took a tough stance on tobacco and alcohol and promoted regular physical activity and nutritional education in schools. Born in eastern Siberia after his parents were deported from the former Soviet Union in 1941, he is a popular politician and one of the leading figures in the re-establishment of Lithuanian independence.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the incoming president of the European Commission, announced Andriukaitis’s nomination as European commissioner for health and food safety on 10 September when he presented his new team of commissioners and their portfolios.


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5652


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