Austria’s Chancellor Kurz accuses EU of foul play in vaccine distribution

Kurz said there is "secrecy" within the Commission's steering board, calling it a "bazaar". [EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN BRUNA]

Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz accused the EU on Friday (12 March) of unfairly distributing COVID-19 vaccines among member states, highlighting that certain EU countries have several times more vaccines than others.

Speaking at a press conference in Vienna, Kurz said that, contrary to the Commission’s claims, he suspects that “the deliveries do not take place according to a population key and the differences will keep growing.”

Highlighting the double standards of this approach, he offered up Malta as a concrete example of this, saying that the country will have received three times as many vials as Bulgaria by the end of June.

Alongside Malta, Kurz also named Denmark as a country receiving preferential treatment.

Pointing out that this is not in line with what the member states had jointly decided, Kurz highlighted suspicions of “side negotiations” between pharmaceutical companies and EU countries.

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“I don’t know these agreements because they are secret,” he said, adding that Austria has not yet suffered any damage.

He said there is “secrecy” within the Commission’s steering board, a group of representatives of all participating member states responsible for overseeing the vaccine distribution process, which Kurz, like other observers, called a “bazaar”.

Asked by a journalist, however, the Chancellor was unable to point out any specific errors:

There was “no indication that someone behaved incorrectly, but there are indications that the result will not be right because progress is so different,” said Kurz.

However, a European Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV that there is no foul play at hand here, stressing that member states have the right to choose to have less or more of a vaccine as they see fit and depending on their own specific circumstances.

They added that although population is the starting basis for an agreement for vaccines, member states may choose to base their decision of how many vaccines to have on a different parameter, which companies would then use to calculate the number of doses required.

This flexibility to decide is in line with the agreement between the Commission and member states, they said, highlighting that vaccines are a member state competence.

Sources from within the commission emphasized that differences in vaccination rates depend on the logistics of national vaccination campaigns. They pointed out that Austria actually plays a crucial role in the “basar”: The co-president of the steering committee is held Clemens-Martin Auer, special envoy for health in the Austrian health ministry.

The comments come on the back of increasing frustration with the general handling of the vaccine distribution in the EU.

Earlier this week, three Baltic states wrote to the European Commission asking for a new system of COVID-19 vaccine distributions based on need, which they said would improve the efficiency of the EU’s vaccination programme.

Decisions on distribution should instead be based on “clear and transparent criteria, such as availability of vaccines, vaccination rate, incident rate, mortality rate and spread of new variants,” the countries stated in a letter to health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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