At a virtual summit, which was briefly attended by Joe Biden, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen highlighted the large shipments sent to the Channel, accounting for two-thirds of the blows given to the United Kingdom.
The EU’s lack of supplies was highlighted by a row at the top between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz who demanded additional doses. Merkel informed Kurz that the lack of vaccine in Austria was due to her government’s inability to order sufficient quantities rather than a failure in Brussels.
But in a post-summit statement, leaders did not support the commission’s decision to take new powers that allow it to potentially block exports to countries with high vaccination rates or where governments have blocked them. shipments by law or their contracts with suppliers. Previously, the EU had just said that it would act against companies that did not honor their contracts with the bloc.
“We stress the importance of transparency as well as the use of export authorizations,” the joint statement read. “We recognize the importance of global value chains and reaffirm that companies must ensure predictability in their vaccine production and meet contractual delivery times.”
Commission officials insisted that the need to keep global supply chains open was the main objective of the new rules.
But Merkel told reporters after the summit that if the EU were to “provide [for] our own people ”, the bloc would not damage the supply chains necessary for the production and distribution of vaccines.
She said: “Regarding the export regime, we have said that we have absolutely no will to disrupt the global supply chain, but also that of course we have an interest in ensuring that companies who have signed contracts with us are really sticking to those contracts.
“We, as the EU, are the part of the world that not only supplies itself but also exports to the rest of the world – unlike the US, unlike Britain.
“And so, on the one hand, our goal is to really respect global supply chains and fight protectionism, but on the other hand, of course we want to supply our own people. [with vaccines] because we know this is the way out of the crisis. ”
French President Emmanuel Macron used a press conference after the meeting to criticize the British media. “Every day, when I read the press from across the Channel, they file a complaint against us saying that it is the EU that is selfish. It’s wrong! ” he said.
Macron reiterated his support for actions against companies, such as AstraZeneca, which breached their contractual obligation to make deliveries to the block. “It’s the end of naivety,” Macron told reporters. “I support the export control mechanisms put in place by the European Commission. I support the fact that we must block all exports as long as certain pharmaceutical companies do not honor their commitments to the Europeans.
The committee on Wednesday widened its scope to block exports to countries with a better record than the EU in terms of vaccination of its population, or those which restrict exports by law or in their contracts with suppliers.
The EU regulation, in force since January, previously only took into account whether a supplier fulfilled its contract with the EU.
In an attempt to garner explicit support for the move, Von der Leyen revealed to executives that 77 million doses made by EU producers had been shipped to 33 countries since December 1.
Of these, 21 million went to the UK, of which just over a million came from AstraZeneca, with the rest being supplied by Pfizer. “While remaining open, the EU must ensure that Europeans receive a fair share of vaccines,” she tweeted.
The UK is not banning the export of vaccines, but the government has signed a contract with AstraZeneca which requires the Anglo-Swedish company to first deliver the doses produced to Oxford and Staffordshire in Britain.
The UK is also reportedly not meeting the EU’s new vaccine coverage criteria, with 45 injections given per 100 inhabitants, compared to 13 percent on average across the 27 member states. A total of 31 million jabs have been administered in the UK.
The committee’s decision has raised concern among some member states, given the risk of inflaming relations with the UK and the opposition voiced by vaccine suppliers.
The Netherlands and Belgium insisted the EU should explicitly support global supply chains in its summit statement, while Spain, Italy and France called for more explicit support for Von der Leyen.
Despite the lack of explicit leadership support for the use of the new export restrictions, the revised regulations will remain the responsibility of the committee and member states.
Earlier today, a Pfizer executive noted the company’s vehement opposition to the new regulations. “We have watched these recent developments with concern,” said Sabine Bruckner, Swiss Country Director of Pfizer. “If it were really about export restrictions, it would be a ‘lose-lose’ situation for everyone, including members of the European Union.
The EU suffered from a major supply shortage of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine due to a yield issue at a factory in Belgium and the company’s subsequent refusal to divert doses made in the UK. Of the 120 million doses promised this quarter, only 30 million are expected to be delivered.
In view of the supply shortage, the EU has threatened to block the export to the UK of an unknown number of doses manufactured at a factory in AstraZeneca in the Netherlands.
British officials have been in negotiations since Monday on the issue. In a joint statement Wednesday evening, the two sides said they continued to seek a “win-win” solution.
But EU officials were enraged by a subsequent intervention by Health Secretary Matt Hancock. In an interview with the Financial Times on Wednesday, Hancock said the UK had a better deal than the commission got, a claim vehemently rejected by sources in Brussels.
Merkel had clashed at the summit with Kurz over Austria’s claim for an additional 10 million doses provided by Pfizer. The Austrian Chancellor led the charge among a group of six member states that initially withheld their full amount of pro-rated vaccine doses only to later find they had a deficit but other countries had taken up the discarded stock. Merkel told Kurz that governments sign contracts, not “bureaucrats” in Brussels. Diplomats in Brussels were tasked with finding a solution.