The Brief, powered by Facebook – Some already miss the UK

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The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/JOHANNA GERON]

It’s not going to be easy to sweep the EU’s vaccines mess under the carpet. Several media across Europe are now calling out those responsible for the “fiasco” over the way the European Commission has handled vaccine deals with the pharmaceutical companies.

Unlike the EU, London has approved vaccines faster, it gets the agreed doses in time and the vaccination plan is generally running smoothly.

Did the EU do well to negotiate deals with the pharma on behalf of EU member states to achieve better prices and equal access? Yes, it did.

But the cruel reality of how things have evolved exposes the EU’s leadership and makes them look incompetent compared to the UK.

Did Brexiters promote the argument that outside Europe, the UK will be more effective and quicker to act? They did. But was it them who set Europe up in the vaccine game with the pharma industry? We don’t know.

The EU’s initial response was dual: On the one hand, turn to domestic EU pharma industry to scale up production and on the other, establish a mechanism to control exports of COVID-19 vaccines produced on EU territory.

The rationale was simple – let’s not export too much if we don’t have enough for domestic needs – but it opened Pandora’s box.

Tokyo has already complained that EU export rules are preventing Japan from finalising its vaccination plan. In the next step, other regions or countries may start taking retaliatory measures against the EU. Just imagine if India, which produces ingredients for vaccines, were to ban exports to the EU.

Some suggest that this could lead to global chaos.

With the UK inside the EU, such a protectionist measure would have never been approved. It goes against Europe’s pro-market spirit (unless the EPP-driven Commission’s narrative has changed in the meantime).

It seems that further EU financial support will be provided to German BionTech and other European pharma companies to step in and increase manufacturing capacity to make up for AstraZeneca’s reduced doses.

It’s also worth highlighting that AstraZeneca’s vaccine is reportedly much cheaper compared to the rest. So EU governments will end up paying more.

Has Berlin’s role been vague in this process? It has.

It’s common knowledge that the European Medicines Agency had a different timeline regarding the approval of Pfizer-BionTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.

In every single case, Germany made either public statements or leaks to the German press and the EU ended up approving all vaccines earlier than scheduled.

Now, Europe is in search of a scapegoat to ease political tensions. Who will foot the bill remains uncertain. Perhaps the Commissioner who was advising against adopting the “panic” approach at the start of the pandemic?

But this will not be enough. EU citizens and companies want immediate solutions, primarily to put an end to the health crisis as soon as possible and prepare for the debt crisis that is coming up.

And they also want to be reassured that the EU ship is piloted with skill and competence, so it can navigate the rough waters ahead.

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The Roundup

A preliminary trial of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine suggests that a two-dose regimen of the vaccine offers 91.6% efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19, according to findings published on Tuesday. At the same time, the European Commission confirmed it does not rule out a deal for the vaccine.

The European Commission said it will need to tap into the EU budget margins this year – around €1.5 billion – to monitor progress made with vaccination campaigns, finance pharmacovigilance studies, and fight against the new variants of COVID-19.

The EU voiced regret at Kosovo’s decision to open an embassy in Jerusalem, made as part of a broader deal brokered by the previous US administration, saying it “diverges” the tiny Balkan country from the EU position.

Faced with the boom of single-use masks in France, the country’s National Assembly set up a “flash mission” on the topic and concluded that wearing washable facemasks should be recommended to the public.

Europe’s regions are changing, the population is getting older and cities are growing while rural regions are increasingly dying out, causing strains on urban infrastructure.

Look out for…

  • European Commission to present its ‘Europe Beating Cancer Plan’

Views are the author’s

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