EU member countries are divided on the tightening of the Covid vaccine export monitoring mechanism proposed yesterday by the European Commission. While some large states, including Italy, which was the first, and so far the only one, requested and obtained to block the export of 250,000 ampoules of AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia, are in favor of the changes, which aim at greater “reciprocity” and “proportionality”, other countries, traditionally more favorable to free trade such as Holland and Belgium, are much more cautious.
However, the issue should not be unraveled today by the heads of state and government who will meet by videoconference at 1 pm. The draft declaration merely “emphasizes the importance of extending the export authorization scheme”. A senior EU official observes that the discussion in the commissioners’ college on the mechanism is “just over” and it is “a bit early” for the leaders to give their final say on the issue. First “the member states must look at the details of the proposal”, a job that will therefore be done at the level of the EU Council.
The Commission itself has been rather cautious in presenting the changes, clarifying that the assessments will be made “on a case-by-case basis”, as both Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis and Commissioner Stella Kyriakides have said.
The fear is that bans on exporting vaccines could be counterproductive: “Having a stick is enough – says a European diplomatic source – using it could lead us to a situation in which we all lose”. The EU, he notes, has not yet achieved “strategic autonomy” either in the production of anti-Covid vaccines or in other areas, so until we reach it we should be “very cautious” in using similar tools.
The production of anti-Covid vaccines requires a “flow” of components, raw materials and technologies that neither the US, the EU nor the UK can do alone. Therefore, if supply chains are damaged, the risk is that “everyone is left without the vaccines we desperately need,” notes the diplomatic source. So, there is only one way forward: diplomatic discussions conducted by the European Commission with London, which are underway.
In practice, if both the EU and Great Britain have to deal with AstraZeneca’s production problems, this burden should be “shared” between the two sides of the Channel. The discussions between Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson are ongoing and “I really hope” that it will come to a result, the source says. Because “whatever” is done to “close the borders” will eventually “hurt us: we are not self-sufficient”.
One of the messages that will come from the Council today, explains a senior EU official, is that pharmaceutical companies must “ensure compliance with commitments”, provide “predictability” on vaccine deliveries and “respect contracts”. The leaders’ draft statement says that “accelerating the production, delivery and use of vaccines remains essential to overcome the crisis” and that efforts in this direction must be “intensified”.
As for the epidemiological situation, explains a senior EU official, “we are in a crisis” and this situation will continue “for a while”, at least until we have “enough vaccines to vaccinate people”. At the same time, we need to “ensure the functioning of the internal market”. The leaders will also talk about digital green certificates, but “the technical work must be done by the Council, before having concrete solutions”.
Finally, opinions differ on the Russian Sputnik vaccine, but it is clear to everyone that the Gamaleya Institute serum “will not be the solution” to the problems of the EU, explains a diplomatic source, given that it would not arrive in appreciable quantities anyway, given that that it is approved by the EMA, before the fourth quarter, well it goes.
Apart from Covid, there will be an “information point” on Russia and there will be talk of Turkey. In the Eastern Mediterranean the situation has had “positive developments”, but at the same time there have been “worrying” signs on the internal level, as regards respect for human rights. The way to create a “positive dynamic” in the difficult relations with Ankara is to work on “economic cooperation”, on “contacts between peoples” and on issues of “common interest”, such as the fight against climate change.
US President Joe Biden is expected to connect with European leaders at around 8.45pm, after a brief introduction by Charles Michel. It remains to be seen what Biden will say, but a diplomatic source expects him to speak mainly of “transatlantic cooperation and geopolitical issues”, such as the relationship with China, but “I’m not sure he will raise the issue of vaccines”.
An EU source explains that “we spoke with the White House, both at the Council and the Commission, to make sure that the supply chains work”. With Washington “there is good communication, which is good”. But vaccinations are “a national American policy”. In any case, a long debate between the leaders and Biden is not expected.
Finally, as regards the breakdown of the 10 million additional vaccine doses that Pfizer / BioNTech will deliver in the second quarter, it is an issue that is addressed in the Steering Committee, the steering committee that brings together Member States and the Commission. The current situation, in which some countries find themselves short of doses, derives from the fact that they have made “wrong choices” at the time of purchase, favoring AstraZeneca over Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna, recalls a diplomatic source.
However, many countries are “ready for solidarity” with those states that are in a “bad situation”. The Commission advised the states to allocate those 10 million additional doses to the countries that have most relied on AstraZeneca and are now in difficulty, due to the fact that the Anglo-Swedish multinational continues to “under-deliver”, as the Vice-President of the Commission Maros Sefcovic. Finally, on Friday morning, the leaders should meet again, to talk about digital, and in particular about the Digital Tax, to then have the Eurosummit in an enlarged format, with a discussion on the economic situation in the EU.