This week in the European Parliament

MEPs from the European Parliament’s biggest political group will this week call on the United States to drop its restrictions on the export of COVID-19 vaccines and ingredients.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

17 May 2021

The demand comes amid divisions between parts of Europe and the US over how best to increase global vaccine production.

Currently, around 1.25 billion doses have been administered around the world. However, less than one percent have been given to the world's 29 poorest countries. Rich countries, by contrast, are speeding up their vaccination campaigns.

Earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron pointed to the fact that, so far, "100 percent of the vaccines produced in the United States are for the American market".

US President Joe Biden recently announced that Washington supports lifting vaccine patents and the issue will be discussed by MEPs during their plenary meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.

Ahead of the debate, a spokesman for the centre-right EPP said, “To speed up vaccinations worldwide, our group wants to help developing countries.”

“The bottleneck in vaccine distribution is not first of all knowledge, but vaccine production itself. The EPP will call on the United States to start with lifting their vaccines export ban and follow the example of the EU.”

“The bottleneck in vaccine distribution is not first of all knowledge, but vaccine production itself. The EPP will call on the United States to start with lifting their vaccines export ban and follow the example of the EU” EPP Group spokesman

The spokesman added, “Contrary to the US, the EU has actually exported around 50 percent of vaccines produced in Europe. The US has exported almost nothing.”

Further comment comes from the Parliament’s ECR group whose spokesman said it believes that “universal and fair access” to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments must be a top priority for the EU.

“However, waiving patents should not be the principal and first solution to equitable access to COVID vaccines worldwide. Instead, we should focus on increasing production capacities and distributing vaccines, maintaining, rather than lowering, incentives for innovation and research, and promoting cooperation between innovators and manufacturers,” said the spokesman.

He said the European Commission should examine “specific proposals relating to a time-limited and targeted waiver as a very last resort measure.”

“These proposals should only be considered if there is broad support from member states that assures the measures will be targeted, extraordinary and temporary.”

Socialist Group leader in the European Parliament, Iratxe Garcia noted, “We will only be safe if everybody is safe, and this means access to a vaccine for all. The global vaccine strategy is an absolute priority for the EU, including the important issue of waiving the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.”

“This is the toughest parliamentary report ever on the situation in the country and a reflection of the serious and continued backsliding in the areas of the rule of law and human rights in Turkey in the last two years” Socialist MEP Nacho Sanzhez Amor

Elsewhere, MEPs on Tuesday will debate and then vote on recent reports by the Commission and parliament which takes stock of the progress in EU-Turkey relations in 2019 and 2020.

The EPP says accession talks with Turkey should be suspended if the “current negative trend is not urgently and consistently reversed.”

Its spokesman said, “As long as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to provoke the EU and its Member States, violates the territorial integrity of Greece and Cyprus and veers Turkey away from European standards, from the rule of law and fundamental human rights, there is no perspective for improved relations.”

Socialist MEP Nacho Sanzhez Amor said, “This is the toughest parliamentary report ever on the situation in the country and a reflection of the serious and continued backsliding in the areas of the rule of law and human rights in Turkey in the last two years.”

“The report sends clear messages to both Turkey and the other EU institutions and member states: without urgent progress in the human rights and the rule of law situation in Turkey, there can be no improvement in EU-Turkey relations.”

During the plenary debate, MEPs will also ask the Commission to examine the “failure” of the Czech administration to prevent a conflict of interest involving the country’s Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, which was highlighted in a recent EU audit report.

“By not preventing and sanctioning the conflicts of interest of the Czech Prime Minister, the Czech Republic is failing to comply with EU legislation and the conditionality for the protection of the Union’s budget. To shield the budget, the Commission should trigger the mechanism now” German EPP MEP Monika Hohlmeier

In the audit, the Commission said Babiš had violated conflict-of-interest rules relating to his Agrofert group of companies and controversial subsidies it received from Czech taxpayers.

On Monday, the EPP spokesman said, “The Czech Republic has failed to comply with EU legislation and we will therefore request that the Commission triggers the conditionality mechanism for the protection of the Union’s budget for the country.”

The recently introduced mechanism aims to link payment of EU funds to the rule law and democracy.

German EPP member Monika Hohlmeier, chair of the Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee who led a parliamentary fact-finding mission to the Czech Republic look into the issue said, “Further disbursement of funds must be halted and the reason is the devastating verdict of the final audit of the conflicts of interest of Babiš.”

She added, ““All open questions have now been answered. The final and public conclusion of the Commission is that Andrej Babiš has been breaching both EU and Czech legislation.”

“By not preventing and sanctioning the conflicts of interest of the Czech Prime Minister, the Czech Republic is failing to comply with EU legislation and the conditionality for the protection of the Union’s budget. To shield the budget, the Commission should trigger the mechanism now.”

"On Tuesday, MEPs are due to discuss Erasmus+: the EU programme for education and training, youth and sport while, later on Tuesday, MEPs will debate the escalation of violence in Palestine and Israel"

Socialist member Lara Wolters said, “We call on the Commission to ensure all payments to Agrofert are halted and to swiftly conclude the remaining investigation into the Czech Republic's prime minister's conflict of interest.”

German Greens member Viola von Cramon, a member of the same committee, said, "We do know that one recipient of large amounts of EU agricultural subsidies is Andrej Babiš and the Commission has clearly identified how his conflict of interest breach both with EU and Czech law.

“His private company 'Agrofert,' must pay back the funds after February 2017, which are deemed irregular by the Commission in their audit, and have its EU funding cut until this conflict is resolved. It should not be up to Czech or European taxpayers to foot the bill for the questionable ethics of one man.

“The council needs to set out how it will address a situation where one of the members will be deciding on funds that could benefit him personally. Massive conflicts of interest at the highest level seriously damage confidence in the European decision making process.”

At the start of a busy plenary, parliament on Monday will debate on the Just Transition Fund, a new instrument with an overall budget of €17.5bn, of which €7.5bn comes from the Multiannual Financial Framework and €10bn from the Next GenerationEU fund.

On Tuesday, MEPs are due to discuss Erasmus+: the EU programme for education and training, youth and sport while, later on Tuesday, MEPs will debate the escalation of violence in Palestine and Israel.

An ECR spokesman said, “The rocket attacks and terror activities must end. We mourn the loss of innocent lives on both sides and wishes a swift recovery to those injured.”

A Green spokesman said, it was “shocked and saddened by this escalation” and had called for an “urgent debate.” “The EU needs to set out how it can help bring lasting peace to the region“, he added.

On Thursday, parliament will also vote on a resolution condemning recent actions by the Chinese government.  This follows the imposition of arbitrary sanctions from the Chinese government against several MEPs and the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights.

Read the most recent articles written by Martin Banks - New EU regulations on AI seek to ban mass and indiscriminate surveillance

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