Six EU states demand vaccine ‘correction mechanism’

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz during a press conference following a working meeting on vaccine distribution in the EU at the Austrian Chancellery, in Vienna, Austria, 16 March 2021. He shows a graph according to which Malta ranks first and Bulgaria last in terms of vaccination in the EU. [Christian Bruna/EPA/EFE]

Six central and eastern European Union heads of government urged Brussels on Tuesday (16 March) to find a “correction mechanism” to fix what they called the unfair distribution of coronavirus vaccines within the bloc.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, after hosting talks with five EU counterparts in Vienna, told reporters it was “important” to come up with a “technical” solution with Brussels institutions “so that for example, Bulgaria doesn’t receive only a third as much (per capita) as Malta”.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, the Czech Republic’s Andrej Babiš and Slovenia’s Janez Janša attended in person, with Croatia’s Andrej Plenković and Latvia’s Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš joining via videoconference.

The six countries complain that the current distribution of vaccines does not correspond to the principle agreed at between the EU 27 of distribution of doses according to population.

A mechanism whereby countries could make use of doses not claimed by other states was sharply criticised, with Kurz branding the system a “bazaar” last week.

“We were told that the EU member states should refrain from Chinese and Russian vaccines,” said Borissov, whose country is in the grip of a spike in coronavirus infections — as is the Czech Republic.

‘Slap in the face’

Bulgaria is not “seeking alms”, he said, pointing out that it had funded vaccine development together with other EU member states in solidarity and getting fewer vaccines than other states was a “political slap in the face”. Bulgaria ranks last in the EU in terms of people vaccinated and experiences a new wave of contaminations.

Borissov’s centre-right GERB party is facing parliamentary elections on 4 April.

EURACTIV Bulgaria reminds that Bulgaria made the choice of ordering less Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines than its quota allows, banking on AstraZeneca and the still inexistent Sanofi jab. Borissov ordered the suspension of the vaccination with AstraZeneca on Friday.

Janša said that allowing disparities in vaccine supply to persist could lead to a “political crisis” within the EU.

Kurz has become particularly active on the question of vaccine distribution amid growing evidence of discontent among Austrians with his government’s strategy.

Fifty-five percent of respondents to one survey published last weekend pronounced themselves “dissatisfied” with the government’s virus policies.

More than a third said they supported the protests against coronavirus measures which have become more frequent in recent months.

The left-wing opposition Social Democrats (SPÖ) has accused Kurz of seeking to distract from his own “mistakes” in his handling of the pandemic.

On Monday it was announced that the official in charge of Austria’s purchases of coronavirus vaccines, Clemens Auer, had resigned.

Ministers said Auer had failed to inform them it was possible to acquire more doses for Austria from among those not claimed by other member states.

The European Commission’s representative in Vienna Martin Selmayr observed on Twitter that “when something goes wrong in Europe, it’s “the EU’s” fault, even if governments haven’t spoken to their own civil servants”.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya also played down suggestions of problems in vaccine distribution.

“The EU has supplied member states with the number of doses that they ordered,” she told Austria’s Die Presse daily.

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