Vaccines: Europe is ‘so far behind UK’ says professor
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Britain’s vaccination programme continues to be a story of success. Yesterday, the UK started giving the Moderna vaccine, in what was hailed as “another key milestone” in the fight against coronavirus. So far, 60 percent of Britain’s adult population have had at least one dose.
For EU countries, it is a completely different picture.
The bloc, which accounts for 27 nations, is still stuck at 13 percent.
This can arguably be attributed to Brussels’ slow decision-making and clunky contracting.
Last year, European governments shifted responsibility for vaccination procurement to the European Commission.
This is because German Chancellor Angela Merkel reasoned that it would have strained EU cohesion if Germany had procured privileged supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was funded by Berlin.
While many now criticise Mrs Merkel’s decision, unearthed reports suggest the Chancellor was not wrong.
In April last year, EU countries did not wait for the Commission to start to strike deals.
France and Spain separately began talks with Moderna and by mid-April, Paris and Berlin started negotiating together to buy vaccines.
EU27 health ministers signed off on a Commission plan to buy on their behalf on June 12.
However, the Franco-German initiative continued to press forward, having invited the Netherlands and Italy to join their buyers’ club.
The quartet was known as the “Inclusive Vaccine Alliance” and in June, they announced a deal for between 300 million and 400 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.
POLITICO’s Jillian Deutsch and Sarah Wheaton recalled how the agreement with AstraZeneca was described as little more than a one-page term sheet between the companies and health ministers.
However, the journalists noted, it was politically significant as it showed that the four countries — representing four of the five largest EU economies — were not afraid to “use their significant buying power and leverage their powerhouse pharma industries”.
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Smaller countries in the bloc saw the move as a threat, to the point EU diplomats started half-joking on WhatsApp that France and Germany could take all the Covid jabs for themselves, the report added.
Ms Deutsch and Ms Wheaton wrote in January: “The then Belgian Health Minister Maggie De Block slammed the deal with Oxford/AstraZeneca as an ‘unreasonable’ move that weakened everyone.
“In a private WhatsApp group, some EU diplomats half-joked that the big countries would take all the vaccines — a sign that many did not trust the Inclusive Vaccine Alliance to actually be inclusive.
“One EU diplomat from outside the alliance said countries were worried there would be two competing tracks: one with the Alliance; and another, backed by the Commission, with Spain and the poorer countries.
“The task of competing with the US already seemed daunting; simultaneously competing with the alliance seemed ‘impossible’, said the diplomat.”
It is not the first time smaller EU countries have shown resentment towards dominant ones, such as Germany and France.
In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, Mar Aguilera Vaqués, professor of constitutional law at the University of Barcelona, warned Germany’s highest court could force member states to revisit the EU’s €750billion (£668bn) recovery fund, also known as Next Generation EU.
Last week, the German Federal Constitutional Court, based in the city of Karlsruhe, blocked the ratification process of the Own Resources Decision – the legislative instrument that would allow the European Commission to borrow money directly from the capital markets and repay it over the next decades.
On Friday, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was ready to sign off Germany’s ratification of the legal text but the constitutional court prevented him from rubber-stamping it.
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This was so he could first examine an emergency appeal filed by the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) and a civic group named Bündnis Bürgerwille, or Citizens’ Will Alliance.
Both argue the recovery fund is illegal and in breach of the EU treaties.
Reacting to the news, the European Commission reaffirmed its confidence on the legal validity of the Own Resources Decision.
However, Ms Aguilera Vaqués argued member states might have to go back to Brussels and change the recovery fund if the Court finds the bloc’s recovery package unconstitutional.
She said: “Whether it is illegal or not, it is for the German constitutional court to decide and for the European Court of Justice to consider…
“But I am a professor of constitutional law.
“My colleagues from international law always say international law is above internal law.
“On the other hand, we, constitutional professors, say it is the constitution of the country.”
When asked what she thinks will happen, Ms Aguilera Vaqués said: “Of course, the German constitutional court could very well say ‘we cannot do this, because it goes against the constitution’.
“‘So we either change the constitution or the EU changes the recovery fund.’”
According to her, the latter is more likely.
She added: “Everybody knows…
“We will see… but Germany is a leading country in the EU so whatever its constitutional court says, it has an impact for sure.”
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