UK has ‘lost all confidence in Von Der Leyen’ says Kuenssberg
The Belgian politician defended the EU’s approach to the coronavirus crisis as he accused Brexiteers in the UK of taking “cheap shots” against Brussels. Mr Lamberts admitted the European Commission had made “two mistakes” in its handling of the procurement of vaccine doses for the bloc.
He admitted the Commission was wrong to accept the “diktat of the pharmaceutical companies that insisted on ‘secrecy’ in signing contracts for vaccines with the EU”.
He added: “It is remarkable that citizens and others don’t have access to these contracts. This is a major problem. On this occasion, public interest trumps trade secrets so these contracts should be published.
“The second mistake the Commission made was last week and the Ireland protocol issue.”
But the Belgian MEP took a swipe at both Germany and the UK on Wednesday for their approach to the vaccination rollout.
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He said: “In the case of Germany we should not be too surprised because an election campaign is in full swing and a way of attacking Angela Merkel is to attack Ursula von der Leyen.
“You have to remember this is where you have a government minister who says the UK is so much better at tackling the crisis than all the rest put together.
“It is little wonder, therefore, that some, including eurosceptics, will choose to take cheap shots at the EU.
“While there have been mistakes it would also be a mistake to dispute that we are better off not having a common EU strategy.
“If we had had 27 Member States separately negotiating contracts with these companies then some would have been supplied and some would not have been.”
In a direct swipe at Prime Minister Boris Johnson over Mrs von der Leyen’s attempt to restrict vaccination exports to Northern Ireland, Mr Lamberts added: “It should be noted that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen very quickly corrected things unlike UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he tried to overrule the Withdrawal Agreement last year.”
But the Belgian MEP’s comments were not echoed by all his colleagues in the European Parliament.
The European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) was particularly scathing of the Commission’s vaccine policy, saying a “lack of clarity” with which it made “crucial decisions, which affect all European citizens, must urgently be addressed.”
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A statement by ECR co-leaders Ryszard Legutko and Raffaele Fitto said: “First, the Commission signed contracts with eight manufacturers for a total of approximately two billion doses, the details of which were not fully disclosed to the public.
“Then, faced with vaccine shortages, von der Leyen announced the EU would trigger article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol in an attempt to block COVID-19 vaccine exports from the bloc to Northern Ireland.”
They added: “Rather than offering a public explanation, von der Leyen chose to hold closed-door meetings with some of parliament’s political groups.
“We deem this behaviour unacceptable and urge for the Commission to offer a full account of the management of its vaccination strategy during the Parliament’s plenary session in Brussels next week.”
The European Commission has come under fierce criticism from EU member states over delays in the EU’s COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, which has badly lagged behind countries like Britain, a former EU member, and the United States.
AstraZeneca announced it would cut its supply of vaccines to the EU until March by 60 percent due to production problems particularly infuriated member states.
Although France has publicly defended the decision to entrust the Commission with negotiating vaccine contracts, President Emmanuel Macron has been “driven mad” by the “slowness and lack of imagination” of EU institutions on vaccines, a diplomatic source said.
European Union industry commissioner Thierry Breton was put in charge of a new vaccine production task force on Thursday to remedy the situation.
Mr Breton, a former French finance minister, will head the new task force in cooperation with EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides, to identify and eliminate bottlenecks in vaccine production plants and adjust output to new variants.
He attended two vaccine summits earlier this week, one hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday and the other by Macron on Tuesday, in a sign Europe’s two most powerful leaders want to focus minds in Brussels.
He told reporters: “I don’t want to blame companies too much. It’s a pretty complex process.
“But what I told them is: I need to be informed immediately (of any production issue). I need transparency. Don’t wait too long.”
However, Mr Breton said cooperation between pharmaceutical companies to produce vaccine developed by rivals, following the model of Sanofi producing Pfizer vaccines, will be done on a voluntary basis, and that there was no plan to force firms to share licences with competitors to scale up vaccine output.
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