Italy takes on AstraZeneca: The government in Rome has rejected an application by the British-Swedish manufacturer to export corona vaccines to Australia. This is the first time an EU country has implemented the export control mechanism that the EU Commission only set up at the end of January.
The Italian government informed the Commission last Friday that it would ban the export of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia. The commission did not contradict this, as a spokesman told SPIEGEL.
Such an approach by Rome had already been indicated last week at the video summit of the EU heads of state and government. According to diplomats, Italy’s new head of government Mario Draghi has called for a tough line against AstraZeneca. The pharmaceutical company has been causing annoyance in the EU for weeks because, from the point of view of the Commission and the member states, it supplies the EU with far less vaccine than promised, but other countries such as Great Britain do not.
The Commission then introduced the export mechanism, which obliges manufacturers of corona vaccines to have deliveries from the EU to third countries approved by the competent national authorities. One criterion is that the producers adhere to their contracts with the EU – which, in the opinion of critics, is not the case with AstraZeneca.
In addition, only a few EU partner countries such as Norway, Switzerland, Israel and the Ukraine and a number of developing countries are exempt from the permit requirement, but not Great Britain or Australia. More than 120 exports to almost 30 third countries have been waved through since the end of January, before Italy was the first country to ban exports to Australia. In Rome it is said that the decision was not made single-handedly, the final decision was made in Brussels. AstraZeneca did not want to comment on the process.
Only a few rehearsals carried out
The actions of the Italian government could also have political consequences. Critics had warned of export bans, among other things because they might force companies to break supply contracts with other countries. When introducing the export mechanism, the Commission also emphasized that it was not about export bans, but about transparency: they just wanted to get an overview of how much vaccine produced in the EU was going to third countries.
However, the mechanism evidently had an effect even before the ban by Italy. According to insiders, AstraZeneca shipped millions of vaccine doses from the EU to the UK alone before the mechanism went into effect. After that, only samples were carried out in small quantities.
The CDU MEP Peter Liese endorsed the action of Italy and the Commission. The USA, for example, introduced a vaccine export ban under President Donald Trump, but his successor Joe Biden did not withdraw it. “In this case, Biden behaves like Trump,” said Liese. Even Canada does not get its vaccines from neighboring USA, but from Germany and Belgium. London, in turn, has signed a “Great Britain-first contract” with AstraZeneca. It cannot be that only the EU is open and supplies the whole world with vaccines, said Liese. It’s like on a plane: “First you put the oxygen mask on yourself, then you help others.”