On that first day, the EU accused the drug maker of acting in bad faith by supplying shots to other nations after promising them urgent delivery to the bloc’s 27 member states.
Brussels asked the court to fine AstraZeneca 10 million euros per violation and force the company to pay 10 euros per dose for each day of delay in compensation for the breach of the EU contract, while by seeking a court order for the urgent delivery of the promised blows.
300 million AstraZeneca jabs were expected at the end of June. But only a third of this amount will be returned to Member States.
EU lawyer Rafael Jafferali told the court the company now plans to deliver the full number of doses by the end of December. “With a delay of six months, it’s obviously a failure,” he said.
“Best reasonable effort”
Its main argument is that AstraZeneca should have used production sites in the block and in the UK for EU supplies under a “best reasonable effort” clause in the contract. He said 50 million doses that should have been delivered to the EU went to countries outside the bloc, “in violation” of their contract.
The EU legal team has also accused the drug maker of giving preferential treatment to the UK instead of delivering blows to the EU.
Charles-Edouard Lambert, another lawyer for the EU team, said AstraZeneca had decided to reserve production at its Oxford site for Britain. “It’s quite serious. AstraZeneca has not used all the means at its disposal. There is a double standard in the way he treats the UK and the Member States, ”he said.
Jafferali said the company should use the four factories listed in its contract for deliveries to the EU. As part of an early purchase agreement with vaccine companies, the EU said it had invested € 2.7 billion, including € 336 million, to finance production of AstraZeneca serum in the four factories.
He also accused the company of misleading the European Commission by providing unclear data on delivery delays.
As the bloc insists AstraZeneca has breached its contractual obligations, the company says it has fully complied with the deal, arguing that the vaccines are difficult to manufacture and that it has made its better to deliver on time.
A lawyer representing AstraZeneca, Hakim Boularbah, said the company’s May 2020 deal with the UK government and the University of Oxford, co-developer of the vaccine, clearly prioritizes Britain. “It is very shocking to be accused of fraud,” Boularbah said, calling it “a baseless accusation.”
The company’s claim that other contractual obligations slowed down the process is one of the legal difficulties in this lawsuit, according to Geerts Van Calster, professor of European law at KU Leuven University.
“Whether or not AstraZeneca can deliver these vaccines depends, of course, on the contractual commitments they also have with other parties,” the legal expert told Euronews.
“And that’s a difficult element in this particular procedure because it would probably oblige the judge to also examine the contents of these other contracts. And in fact the judge, of course, may or may not have access to these contracts, ”he added.
After Wednesday’s hearing, a second is scheduled for Friday. A decision is expected within two to four weeks and can be appealed afterwards.
A long-standing dispute
Amid a deadly outbreak of coronavirus infections in Europe earlier this year, delays in vaccine production and deliveries hampered the EU’s vaccination campaign.
Cheaper and easier to use than competing vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, the AstraZeneca vaccine was a mainstay of the vaccine’s deployment in the EU. But the EU’s partnership with the company quickly deteriorated amid accusations it was promoting relations with British authorities.
While the UK has made rapid progress on its vaccination campaign thanks to AstraZeneca injections, the EU has come under fire for its slow start.
Concerns over the pace of the deployment in the EU grew after AstraZeneca said it could not deliver as many doses to EU members as initially planned due to production capacity limits.
Improvement of indicators in Europe
The health situation has improved considerably in Europe in recent weeks, the number of hospitalizations and deaths linked to COVID-19 having fallen sharply with the resumption of vaccination.
Around 300 million doses of the vaccine have been delivered in Europe – a region of around 450 million people, of which around 245 million have already been administered.
Around 46% of the EU population has received at least one dose.
In total, the European Commission has obtained more than 2.5 billion doses of vaccine from various manufacturers.
It recently signed another major order with Pfizer and BioNTech through 2023 for an additional 1.8 billion doses of their COVID-19 injection to be shared among the countries in the bloc.