MEPs vs Commission in court over vaccine contracts

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a presser on the EU's vaccine strategy in Brussels, Belgium, 08 January 2021. [EPA-EFE/FRANCOIS WALSCHAERTS / POOL]

EU lawmakers from the Greens/EFA group have filed a case application to the European Court of Justice stating “implicit refusal” from the Commission to provide access to information in the context of vaccine contracts between the European Commission and vaccine manufacturers.

Five MEPs of the Greens/EFA submitted the case application on 22 October “after months of correspondence between the Greens/EFA and Commission, during which the Commission did not agree to provide transparent access to the contracts,” according to a press release published on Friday (29 October). 

The MEPs party to the case are Margrete Auken, Tilly Metz, Jutta Paulus, Michèle Rivasi, and Kimberly van Sparrentak.

Kimberly van Sparrentak, a Dutch MEP, said it had been nine months since the Commission was formally asked for access to the full set of advance purchase contracts for vaccines.

“For nine months the Commission has refused to disclose them, but after being heavily criticised for the opacity of its vaccine policy, they have published heavily redacted contracts,” she said adding that it is “clearly insufficient”.

The Greens/EFA Group stated that transparency in the vaccine proceedings was not ensured despite health being a “matter of public interest”, and added that the European Commission had failed to consider the overriding public interest in the disclosure of the vaccine contracts.

Danish MEP Margrete Auken highlighted that billions of EU taxpayer money have been spent on making agreements with the pharmaceutical industry.

“The vaccine development is a success but pre-purchase agreements are not like a gift card for the industry to use without conditions,” she said, adding that citizens paying both for the development, the production, and again for purchasing without knowing the profits of the industry is unacceptable.

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On 17 June 2020, the European Commission presented the EU Vaccines Strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing and deployment of vaccines against COVID-19.

Through Advance Purchase Agreements with individual vaccine producers, the Commission secured the right to buy a specified number of vaccine doses in a given timeframe and at a given price.

In return, the Commission financed a part of the upfront costs from the €2.7 billion Emergency Support Instrument. This funding was considered a down-payment on the vaccines that member states purchase.

The information that MEPs are now demanding is about liability and indemnification, production of vaccines including quantities, locations, prices and cost of research and development, the names of the steering group negotiating the contracts “and much more”.

Sparrentak said transparency is important for the future as “we know that Europe will continue to face major crises like the current pandemic”. 

“We are in the process of setting up a new European Health Emergency Response Authority – HERA – which will soon be in charge of all joint public contracts in the health field. If HERA is to be a success, transparency of any future vaccine and drug contracts must be guaranteed, as well as independent governance and control of this structure,” she said. 

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Plenary demanded more transparency 

The case application was submitted to the court a day after the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for legislation to make the process of researching, purchasing and distributing COVID-19 vaccines more transparent. 

MEPs demanded that the Commission disclose who negotiates vaccine purchases on its behalf. It should publish purchase agreements made with vaccine suppliers, including details of public investments and vaccine costs, and publicise any potential breaches of contract.

MEPs expressed hope that more transparency would help to fight vaccine scepticism. 

After the plenary vote, Dolors Montserrat, a Spanish MEP from the EPP group and Petitions Committee Chair, said that for the EU Strategy for COVID-19 vaccines] to be successful, “the public must be provided with more information; this will increase their trust in vaccines and in the EU’s investment that brought us vaccines in record time, free for all EU citizens.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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