The Commission assures that the objective is only “to ensure transparency and gather information”, but prior authorization will be mandatory before each dose crosses a Union border
The European Union will immediately launch a control mechanism to collect in real time all the information on the production and export of Covid 19 vaccines manufactured in Community territory.
The Commission Ursula von der Leyen repeated over and over again, in public and private, is not and will not be a ban on exports, and that a hypothetical blockade occurred “in very few cases” and in the worst case scenario . The goal is for it to come into force tomorrow, in response to the open crisis with AstraZeneca and the UK.
The tension is very strong in the EU this week, from within and from without. Criticism of the Commission rains down for its centralized purchase of vaccines. Reproaches for buying few doses, for taking too long to sign contracts, for not being able to put pressure on the laboratories.
For, ultimately, fail. The Commission has a serious problem, because it is the perfect victim and the ideal scapegoat . Furious attacks have immediately come from London accusing an “envious EU” of wanting to “steal British vaccines”.But also from all capitals.
The crises of the last decade have shown that Brussels quickly becomes a way to evade national or regional responsibilities. If the vaccination program goes bad or slow, the responsibility always ends in Europe, which rarely can or knows how to defend itself. When it was going well it was everyone’s success, when there are problems it is someone else’s failure.
The Commission (which established its purchase plan in response to the requests, suggestions, demands, orders and red lines of 27 governments with very different interests, priorities and demographic structures and according to the rules set by the Member States) wants to prevent a open fight with businesses and neighbors .
He’s the good cop. On the other hand, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, plays the bad cop. In interviews and now in a letter of reply to several European leaders in which, with well-studied language and a timely distribution, he appeals to study the possibility of resorting to Article 122 of the Treaties, foreseen for emergency situations.
He does not say it but implies that in case of need and crisis, like the current one, anything goes, including perhaps seizing the doses that pharmaceuticals reserve for other clients. Technically, it could also be used to twist the arm of companies, force them to share knowledge and patents, coordinate production with other firms.
Or so it has been interpreted by some diplomats, who see it as a threat in the middle of the negotiation rather than as a real possibility right now. Michel himself, in the letter, says that “if a satisfactory solution is not achieved”, all options should be “explored” and that “if he deems it politically appropriate” one of them could be Article 122.
London speaks of “vaccine nationalism”, but reality shows that both the US and the UK have effectively prevented the doses produced in their territory from coming out.
Data and statements from politicians and technicians show that the UK has been boasting for months of receiving doses from plants in Belgium or the Netherlands, but at the same time has pressured AstraZeneca not to leave a vial until the needs of the national population. In the EU many, starting with Germany, want to stop being a troupe and play by the same rules as everyone else.
The mechanism that the Commission aspires to put in place tomorrow means that any pharmaceutical company that wants to export vaccines outside the EU, whatever the final destination (although there will be exemptions for humanitarian reasons and for the nearest and least favored neighbors), You must first submit a series of standardized forms to the customs authorities of the country where the plant is located .
The paperwork, according to the community technicians “would be resolved in hours, not days or weeks .” Brussels will set a series of legal criteria, the basis of which is compliance with and respect for the contracts already signed with pharmaceutical companies.
The customs authorities will analyze each export request and if there are no problems it will be allowed. Technicians insist that while a veto is possible and can occur on some occasions, it is not expected to be the norm.
The EU already launched an almost identical mechanism last March to control medical supplies produced in the EU, from masks to respirators. Now he wants to do the same during the first quarter of the year . The mechanism could be renewed, but the objective is that it ends in principle in March.
Although all the stewards and technicians throw balls out and say that it is not the answer to any specific case, the AstraZeneca situation is the trigger. Yesterday Belgian officials visited the firm’s facilities in the country to see what is happening and try to find out if the company is telling the truth and the announced delays, with a drop of tens of millions of units over the doses promised for February, are justified. for problems there.
“We do it with care, aligned with the rules, the commitments, the WTO . It is not an extraordinary measure, but one that helps and allows transparency and that will allow us to correct them in the event of deficits,” explain community sources. “That has to be something very fast, a matter not of days but of hours. It must work well. We have seen it in the past and we know that it can work well in these circumstances.”
The idea is that the list of criteria is very clear and there is not much room for interpretation, but the final details have not yet been finalized. It remains to be seen whether national authorities are obliged to consult the Commission on a case-by-case basis or not . Or what happens if there are discrepancies in judgment between one and the other.