Europe’s problems with corona vaccines are hatched in green and white. At least that’s how it looks on the slides, the President of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen told EU heads of state and government on Thursday presents. At the beginning of the video summit, fighting the pandemic was on the agenda, and von der Leyen briefed the group on vaccine deliveries to the EU. The funds of the pharmaceutical company Astra Zeneca were shown in the presentation with a green bar, and green and white hatching was everything that the company promised but did not deliver.
From December to the end of June, the British-Swedish company is expected to provide 300 million cans – but will manage a maximum of 100 million. This huge gap is an important reason why vaccination campaigns have got off to a slow start in many Member States. A total of three producers have delivered 88 million cans so far, and by the end of the month it should be 106 million. If Astra Zeneca had met its first quarter commitments, it would be almost twice as many. At the same time, 77 million vaccine doses were exported to 33 countries from the EU in the past four months, as von der Leyen calculated. According to the commission, 21 million went to Great Britain alone.
With this data, the German wanted to advertise the controversial step of its authority to tighten the rules for the export of corona vaccines. In any case, manufacturers have had to authorize such exports since the beginning of February, but the Commission decided on Wednesday to introduce further reasons why Member States can refuse these requests. The extended regulation comes into force on Friday; the consent of the states is not required.
Nevertheless, the heads of state and government discussed it on Thursday. Smaller member states with an important pharmaceutical industry in particular – Belgium, Sweden or the Netherlands – see the threat of export bans as sensitive. As it is said, heads of government from this group urged at the summit to proceed with the greatest caution and after consultation with manufacturers and EU countries. On the other hand, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi is said to have welcomed the tightening. Chancellor Angela Merkel also defended the tougher line in the press conference after the summit: “As the EU, we are that part of the world that not only supplies itself, but also exports to the world, unlike the USA, unlike Great Britain”, she noted critically. Von der Leyen told journalists that the authorization requirement should ensure “that Europe gets its fair share of the vaccines”. The regulation is an invitation to other countries to catch up with Europe’s openness when it comes to exports.
Astra Zeneca is finally having another plant certified
After all, there is also good news in the case of the Astra Zeneca problem. The company has vaccines produced in two EU plants, by contract manufacturers in the Netherlands and Belgium. The group justifies the delivery failures with “start-up difficulties” in Belgium. But the Dutch factory of the supplier Halix is busy producing. However, this factory has not yet been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Therefore, the vaccines cannot be used in the EU – but they can be used in the UK. The commission voiced the bad suspicion that Astra Zeneca had given itself a lot of extra time with the approval in order to be able to supply Great Britain first. But on Wednesday the company finally submitted the long-awaited application. It is said that the first cans from this factory could be distributed to EU countries in March.
The delivery failures also provoke disputes within the EU. Some members ordered little of the more expensive vaccines from Moderna and Biontech / Pfizer, but more from Astra Zeneca – a mistake, as it now shows. Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has been calling for compensation for days and said before the summit: If there was no solution, it could “cause damage to the EU in a way that we have not seen for a long time”. But there was no solution.
Merkel hands out against Chancellor Kurz
There is actually mass distribution because Biontech and Pfizer can deliver ten million more doses in the short term. Some EU members suggested dividing a third of this among five particularly affected countries. But that’s not enough for Vienna, because it doesn’t get any extra rations. Briefly threatened with a veto at the summit. Merkel, however, emphasized that the “supply contracts” had been signed by the member states – “and not by some stupid bureaucrats”: a tip against Kurz, who annoyed many with his complaints about the “vaccination bazaar” and alleged “secret contracts”. In the end, the top politicians agreed to let their EU ambassadors haggle over the distribution of the ten million cans. Merkel said afterwards that finding a solution was something like “squaring the circle”.
The other hot topic of the conference was the relationship with Turkey. Merkel said before the summit in the Bundestag that she did not expect “no easy talks”, but hoped for a result. After all, Merkel knows very well that it was her fault that no sanctions were imposed in December because of the natural gas drilling in the Mediterranean. Since then, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been courting Europeans. Merkel complained, however, that “in many cases” human rights are not respected in Turkey. It is regrettable that Turkey announced its withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on Violence against Women. The virtual discussion then proceeded surprisingly quickly: Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Cyprus President Nikos Anastasiades quickly made it clear that they supported the compromise of Council President Charles Michel.
The EU intends to continue cooperation on the subject of migration and refugees
The final declaration condemns Erdoğan’s attacks on the media and opposition parties, but there are concrete offers in the event of further de-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean. Accordingly, the EU Council of Ministers could soon begin preparing negotiations on an expanded customs union with Turkey. It is stated, however, that the EU wants to set up its engagement with Turkey “gradually, appropriately and reversibly”. She would like to continue the cooperation on border protection and the return of rejected asylum seekers. As an incentive for Turkey, the Commission is to be instructed to prepare further financial aid for the care of Syrian refugees. Turkey will be dealt with again in June. Merkel said after the summit: “Despite the deep differences of opinion, speechlessness is no answer, we need contacts at all levels.”
Since the summit took place virtually, the debate on the relationship with Russia dwindled to an “information point”. US President Joe Biden explained what policy he wanted to pursue towards Vladimir Putin via video link, which lasted 30 minutes. Merkel named cooperation on climate issues or the settlement of trade disputes as goals – and that Biden wants to coordinate closely with Turkey and China. When it came to dealing with Beijing, Merkel said that there would be “a lot in common with the United States, but no identity.” Both had their interests, said the Chancellor, before saying goodbye to the journalists at 10 p.m. with “Have a nice evening, today you didn’t have to wait that long”.