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European Commission officials on Monday confirmed a barrage of vague threats over the cancellation of coronavirus vaccine exports but could not explain exactly what they intended to do, when they were expected to do so. or how it would bring more doses into the arms of EU citizens.
So after another day of far more questions than answers about the EU’s slow vaccination campaign, only this was clear: the ongoing conflict in Brussels was not going to stop the protest among citizens and EU national leaders ahead of a meaningful European summit on Thursday.
The Commission’s threats, announced by President Ursula von der Leyen last week, are named after the UK – the only vaccine-producing country that has been receive doses extracted on the European continent, but, by all accounts, do not export any doses. made at home.
The British government – and the British people – have reacted angrily to the EU’s saber-rattling, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reached out to European peers who are trying any new restrictive measures that have put pressure on him. response. Some allies are already urging him to keep his fire, even as the EU takes action, to avoid a trade war that could disrupt fine supply chains.
But, for the moment at least, the Commission kept the fire going.
“Look, we’re not going to underestimate the tools or the details of what we could suggest to achieve the goals,” said commission chief executive Eric Mamer. ”“ Our issue is really with underperformance, vaccine under-delivery compared to what is in our contracts with these companies and that is the issue we want to resolve – how do you ensure that companies deliver to the EU in accordance with the contract. “
But while Mamer, speaking at the regular midday press conference, mentioned several companies, the Commission’s anger is currently directed only at one: AstraZeneca, which tens of millions of doses behind what he promised to deliver.
As one way of rectifying this deficit, the Commission is looking at the possibility of banning the export of AstraZeneca vaccines made at a Dutch plant run by a subcontractor, Halix. And on Monday, Dutch officials indicated that they would cooperate with a commission decision to ban such exports.
But it’s not clear if that would even help. Interior Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, the EU’s point of view on increasing vaccine production, had previously said the Halix factory had not been delivering doses to the UK, although that could be changed.
As a separate problem, the European Medicines Agency has not authorized the Halix factory to make vaccines for the EU. The snafu appears to be a technical retrospective that was as much to blame as the Commission’s fault for not asking AstraZeneca to seek such approval as it was the company’s fault for not to do so. That agreement is now in the process, Mamer said.
Mamer reiterated during Monday’s press conference that the Commission’s aims were simply to force vaccine manufacturers to follow EU purchasing agreements and obtain “co-branding” from other countries. vaccines were getting doses made by the EU – again, that is the UK
He defined equilibrium as the export of finished vaccine doses, or raw materials needed to make vaccines.
At the same time, he emphasized that while the Commission wanted to ban exports, it did not currently have the legal authority to seize unlicensed vaccines and return them for EU countries. Such a move would require additional emergency measures and could run counter to WTO rules, as well as undermining the EU ‘s reputation as a rules – based international trade supporter.
“This is not about banning the export of vaccines,” Mamer said. “It’s about making sure we are in a position to get the vaccines that are expected in Europe.”
Journalists and some national officials were still left wondering how the Commission would actually guarantee the delivery of the expected vaccines, something it is not yet possible to do with AstraZeneca. So far, the Commission has banned only one shipment with Italian support – of AstraZeneca vaccines intended for Australia. On Monday, Mamer said the Commission did not know what happened to the 250,000 stymied doses and asked questions to the company.
EU leaders are expected to discuss the issue of vaccine exports at their video conferencing conference on Thursday. But since they are not meeting in person, they cannot take any formal decision immediately.
There has been some speculation that leaders, who are under increasing political pressure over the slow pace of vaccinations, may want to extend the export ban to focus not only on AstraZeneca but also on BioNTech / Pfizer, Moderna and other potential producers so far have fulfilled their contractual commitments with the EU.
Such a move would not only attract the attention of companies but also from other countries, including partners such as Canada, Australia and Mexico, which buy vaccines from EU manufacturers.
In the wake of her new threats last week, von der Leyen offered a rationale for wider export exports – a move that could, while controversial, raise vaccine levels. in the EU. At the same time, it could also invigorate the ruling party of the German Christian Democratic Union in a real election year.
But other EU countries said they would oppose such an aggressive move, warning that von der Leyen’s approach threatened the EU’s reputation in an attempt to play to a German audience.
“I increasingly feel like we are all just part … of a German election play,” said one EU diplomat.
Two EU diplomats said only France and Italy clearly supported a wider export ban, while Germany’s position remained unclear. And France was the only country to openly relinquish that new high-risk approach.
“I wholeheartedly support what the president of the commission has called, for calling for solidarity,” President Emmanuel Macron said last week.
Officials from countries including Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands said they were opposed to banning the export of vaccines from companies fulfilling their contracts.
With EU countries on the division and leaders almost meeting, there seemed no solution to this week ‘s debate.
Meanwhile, an attempt by European Council President Charles Michel to challenge the UK to reveal how many doses he has delivered has been forgotten amid the sound of threatening threats. Commission – not to mention London’s warnings about the potential for a harmful trade war.
Emilio Casalicchio and Anna Isaac and gave an account.
This article is part of POLITICOkey policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug prices, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our dedicated journalists keep you at the top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email [email protected] for a recommendation test.