This Thursday, the heads of state and government of the EU will be discussing at a video summit, among other things, how vaccinations against the coronavirus in the European Union can be accelerated. The chairman of the health committee in the EU Parliament, the French Pascal Canfin, is meanwhile demanding more transparency from the vaccine manufacturers and the member states in the disclosure of contracts and the details of vaccine orders. In this way, an instrumentalization of the topic in the upcoming election campaigns can be avoided, says the confidante of the French President Emmanuel Macron.
Mr Canfin, you were the first MEP to have access to the vaccine procurement contract with Curevac. The Commission has now put the contract online. You were disappointed in reviewing the contract. Why?
I am disappointed because some questions about legal liability have been blacked out. Because the public would have to be shown how the responsibilities between laboratories and authorities in the event of problems were structured. The essence of a democratic debate is knowing who is responsible for what. It is normal for trade secrets not to belong to the public. But this does not apply to questions of legal responsibility.
The EU Commission is accused of having concluded a deal with the vaccine manufacturer Biontech / Pfizer relatively late – last November. How do you answer the critics?
You cannot ask the Commission to be the first to sign and to deliver a watertight contract at the same time. Pfizer entered the negotiations demanding that US liability law apply. That would have resulted in the laboratories being completely relieved of legal responsibility. The EU Commission rightly insisted that European jurisdiction should apply. It took some time before the disagreements were resolved. That explains why we signed late.
[Wenn Sie die wichtigsten News aus Berlin, Deutschland und der Welt live auf Ihr Handy haben wollen, empfehlen wir Ihnen unsere App, die Sie hier für Apple- und Android-Geräte herunterladen können.]
Shouldn’t there be some lessons to be learned from ordering vaccines for the future, especially in the decision-making process among the 27 EU countries?
You have to approach this question without demagoguery and consider where we were before the pandemic. The EU Commission had no powers on this issue. It was therefore impossible to give the Commission 100 percent the mandate to negotiate. The hybrid solution involving both the Commission and the Member States was the only viable option. But if we take the path of a purely national Vaccine procurement had hit, it would have led to 27 different contractual agreements. I would like to see how the public debate would have gone if a dose of the vaccine had been 50 cents more expensive in France than in Germany.
Last year, the EU provided around two billion euros as a down payment for vaccine procurement. The other payments are made by the EU states depending on the delivery of the vaccines. Can you estimate the total amount likely to be spent on vaccines by the EU and its member states?
It’s difficult to estimate. For example, I don’t know what price we ordered the additional 300 million cans from Biontech / Pfizer at the beginning of the month. It is an open question whether the additional doses are more expensive or cheaper than in the November contract. But one thing is clear: Commission head Ursula von der Leyen acted correctly, especially in view of the debate in Germany, when she decided to re-order. Otherwise we would have risked the collapse of the EU framework for procurement.
They ask for a detailed list of vaccine distribution in the EU – month by month and country by country. Why?
Both in Germany, where the Bundestag will be elected in September, and in France, where presidential elections are due next year, the question can quickly lead to fictitious debates. There is a simple way to prevent the issue of EU-wide vaccine procurement from becoming a campaign issue in individual countries such as Germany and France: until June, the EU member states publish monthly the number of doses they are ordered at per month individual companies are entitled to. This information lies with the member states; it cannot be read from the contracts concluded by the EU Commission.
Germany has signed an additional contract with Biontech for the delivery of 30 million cans. What do you make of it?
I have not seen a contract stating this. I am strictly against bilateral agreements outside the EU framework. Because in the contracts with the EU it is clearly stated that the delivery of cans according to bilateral agreements cannot take place until the European list has been processed. Assuming that AstraZeneca’s vaccine will be approved soon, the vast majority of the EU population should be able to be vaccinated during this year. This would not be associated with any additional medical benefit for Germany either, because the doses in question from bilateral agreements would most likely not be delivered before 2022.