Former UK Europe Minister welcomes fresh bid to defuse ever-growing EU-UK vaccine tensions

The EU and the UK are locked in a bitter ongoing dispute about the availability of vaccines, in particular the AstraZeneca jab.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

25 Mar 2021

The EU claims that of the more than 40 million doses exported from the EU over the past two months, a quarter were sent to the UK.

Vaccination rates in the UK are way ahead of all Member States some of whom, including Belgium, now plan another effective lockdown to curb rising cases.

An online summit of EU leaders later on Thursday will be asked to consider possible restrictions on exports of vaccines out of the EU.

Ahead of the summit, the UK and EU issued a joint statement on Wednesday saying they wanted to “create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all.”

“We are all facing the same pandemic and the third wave makes co-operation between the EU and the UK even more important,” the statement added.

Denis MacShane, a former UK Europe minister, said the statement should be seen as an attempt to reconcile the two sides’ differences over the vaccine issues.

On Thursday, the former cabinet minister told this website, “I am more interested in the joint UK-EU statement on vaccines with its language of ‘win-win’ and ‘cooperation’, which is a complete U-turn on all the ugly language attacking the EU from ministers and pro-Brexit press.”

The former Labour MP said, “The UK House of Commons has risen so Boris Johnson no longer faces noisy ERG MPs. He desperately needs a continuing successful vaccine programme. Having a big row with the EU which has so many cards is dumb.”

He added, “His immediate priority is to not lose votes on the key May 6 mid-term [local] elections. Headlines against Brussels are pointless if they lead to even some delays and problems with vaccine deliveries in the UK.”

“I have to say that this is the first serious joint statement of friendly agreement between London and Brussels since Brexit took pace”

Denis MacShane, former UK Europe Minister

“Nonetheless, I have to say that this is the first serious joint statement of friendly agreement between London and Brussels since Brexit took pace.”

Thursday’s Council summit will discuss among other things, the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine rollout, and transatlantic relations with US President Joe Biden, who will join for part of the meeting.

The EPP Group is calling for restrictions on supplies leaving the EU, saying it “welcomes” the Commission's efforts to restrict the distribution of vaccines leaving Europe to other vaccine-producing countries.

Its leader Manfred Weber said, “When all over the world, our partners with vaccine production facilities are putting their countries, their population first, Europe cannot be the only one to play by the rules.”

“In the past months, we have sent 9 million vaccines to the UK, but we have received none in return. The criteria should be clear: it is give and take. If vaccine-producing countries don't send vaccines to Europe, they won’t get vaccines from Europe.”

“Our approach should be based on facts, always guided by the principles of proportionality and reciprocity, but we should not be naïve.”

The German deputy added, “Nineteen countries in Europe are experiencing increasing infection rates. The urgency is extremely high and we cannot rely only on commercial decisions by vaccine producers for our supplies in Europe.”

“The recent news regarding AstraZeneca stocks of vaccines in Italy shows the extent of AstraZeneca’s unwillingness to be transparent. We urgently need explanations from the company and expect a tough response from the European Commission on this.”

“We must do whatever it takes to keep the promise that by the end of the summer, every European will have the possibility to get the vaccine. The credibility of the European Union and European citizens’ trust in our Institutions are at stake.”

“In the past months, we have sent 9 million vaccines to the UK, but we have received none in return. The criteria should be clear: it is give and take. If vaccine-producing countries don't send vaccines to Europe, they won’t get vaccines from Europe” Manfred Weber, EPP

Also speaking just ahead of the virtual EU summit, Greens co-leader Philippe Lamberts said he welcomes the proposed Covid certificate, which will also be discussed on Thursday.

The Belgian member said, “We share the wish of our societies to find again the freedom to move and consider that another holiday season lost would deal a severe blow not just to the economies of the countries concerned but also to the cohesion of the monetary union.”

“A harmonised Covid certificate will constitute a potentially useful tool, provided it fulfils crucial conditions. First, it must be based on scientific evidence, in particular that vaccination significantly reduces the contamination potential of the individual, otherwise, the only thing that the certificate would do is create a false sense of safety.”

“Second, that certificates will not lead to discrimination or create a two-tier society that pits vaccinated and unvaccinated people against each other; proof of vaccination must be treated as equal to a current negative test or detectable antibodies.”

“Third, watertight guarantees must be given in order to protect privacy. While it is justifiable that public authorities can control the validity of a certificate, there is absolutely no justification for them to access let alone store data about its usage.”

“These data are personal medical data that are and should remain the ownership of every individual. Finally, if put in use, the certificate scope and duration should be restricted to travel during the pandemic.”

“More importantly, the real challenge for the EU and its Member States will be to significantly increase testing capacities and massively expand the production of vaccines. We must avoid any vaccine nationalism and conflicts with our partners, such as the UK, over the inability of a manufacturer to fulfil their contractual promises.”

“The best way to deal with any potential delays in supply is for the EU, UK and vaccine manufacturers like Astra Zeneca to sit together at the highest level and find a solution.”

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