EU leaders argue over vaccine distribution at tense summit

EU divisions over vaccine distribution were exposed at a summit on Thursday as governments failed to agree on how to deliver extra shots to member states in need of emergency supplies .

The leaders clashed in a marathon videoconference that ended unresolved over demands from mostly poorer eastern member states for part of an additional 10 million BioNTech / Pfizer vaccines.

Tense and at times moody talks failed after Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s demands for additional supplies of vaccines for Vienna were rejected by leaders, including Germany’s Angela Merkel.

Kurz was leading efforts to make Austria part of a group of EU countries receiving extra doses after being hit by AstraZeneca delivery gaps. But his demands to distribute the majority of the blows between Austria, the Czech Republic and Croatia were rebuffed by leaders who questioned the need for Vienna on the worst-affected countries in Eastern Europe lagging behind. behind the rest of the block.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the vaccine rollout in Austria was “not in bad shape” and the bloc should consider prioritizing Bulgaria, Croatia and Latvia. All three countries have consistently fallen behind the EU average vaccination rate after weighting their purchases in favor of AstraZeneca jabs which have been plagued by supply delays.

EU officials have spent the past week grappling with how to distribute some of the 10 million deliveries of Pfizer jab postponed from the third quarter.

Hopes for a deal faded after Kurz said Vienna would veto on any distribution agreement this did not include an increased share for Austria.

Merkel has expressed frustration at Austria’s criticism of EU rules, according to people briefed on the matter. She told the summit that vaccine contracts were “signed by member states and not by stupid bureaucrats”.

While all EU countries are entitled to pro-rated population shares for each vaccine purchased by the European Commission, they can choose to take less of each injection if they wish. Unused shares can then be bought by other Member States.

The dispute highlighted growing disunity within the EU over vaccine deployment as leaders also debated tighter export restrictions and heard a speech from US President Joe Biden. Many EU countries are struggling to contain new cases of the virus, with Belgium and France being forced to take new lockdown measures this week.

This week, the committee proposed strengthening discretionary controls on EU exports, as it seeks to push recipient countries, including the UK, to share their own production.

Angela Merkel at post-summit press conference: Frustrated German Chancellor reportedly told fellow leaders that vaccine contracts were ‘signed by member states and not by stupid bureaucrats’ © Getty Pictures

The EU has exported 77 million vaccines to more than 40 middle and high-income countries since December 1, according to commission figures released Thursday – almost as many as the 88 million delivered to the bloc. About 21 million doses were sent to the UK, EU officials said, including around 1 million AstraZeneca jabs that were sent before the EU’s export regime came into effect at the end of January.

French President Emmanuel Macron said after the summit: “Europe is not a selfish continent. When I read the British press we hear that the EU is selfish. It’s wrong. “

According to data collected by the Financial Times, doses of AstraZeneca of 1 m would not have significantly closed the gap between the vaccination campaigns of the EU and the United Kingdom, which vaccinated 3.4 times more than people per capita. But shipments to Britain have fueled a dispute between London and EU capitals, who are angry that no exports have come from the UK in return.

Discussions continue between London and Brussels over claims by Britain that it is entitled to millions of doses of AstraZeneca made in a Dutch factory.

Matt hancockThe UK Health Secretary argued this week that the UK government had priority because the EU had a ‘best efforts’ contract and we have an exclusivity agreement.

But EU officials point out that Britain’s contract with AstraZeneca uses the same “best reasonable efforts” language to define the company’s delivery responsibilities.

They also say AstraZeneca should have sent production to the EU from UK factories, which are mentioned in the company’s deal with the commission as sources of supply.

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